Myrmica incompleta Provancher, 1881

Shattuck, Steve & Cover, Stefan, 2016, Taxonomy of some little-understood North American ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), Zootaxa 4175 (1), pp. 10-22: 18-19

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Myrmica incompleta Provancher, 1881


Myrmica incompleta Provancher, 1881 

Myrmica incompleta Provancher, 1881: 359  . Syntype worker, Cap-Rouge [46°46′N 71°21′W], Quebec (probably, specific details lacking) (Provancher) (Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Genoa) [https://].GoogleMaps 

Myrmica brevinodis var. frigida Wheeler, 1917: 502  . Syntype workers, Ice River Valley , British Columbia, 5000ft. (Whymper) (Musee d'Histoire Naturelle Genève; Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Genoa) [https://,]. New synonym. 

Myrmica brevinodis whymperi Forel, 1913: 215  . Syntype workers, Vermillion Pass [51°14′N 116°03′W], AlbertaGoogleMaps  ; near Field [51°24′N 116°29′W], British ColumbiaGoogleMaps  ; near Lake Louise , British Columbia [51°26′N 116°11′W] (Whymper) (Musee d'Histoire Naturelle Genève; Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Genoa) [https://;]. New synonym.GoogleMaps 

Myrmica brevinodis var. sulcinodoides Wheeler, 1917: 502  . Syntype workers, South Dakota, Utah, Maine (no specific localities given) (Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Genoa) [ CASENT0904081 from Park City, Utah possible type specimen]. New synonym.

The taxonomic history of the forms centering on what is presently called Myrmica incompleta Provancher  is a saga calculated to make the wicked laugh and the judicious weep. While contemplating this tangle, keep in mind that M. incompleta  is a common ant in cold climates across Canada and the northern United States, from the Maritime Provinces west to Alaska, south to New England and the Great Lakes region, and with an enormous southern extension in the Rocky Mountains   , Washington  , Oregon, and the Sierra Nevada in California. Over this vast expanse its ecology and colony structure seem to be pretty consistent. It is an ant of moist, open or semi-open habitats, often forming dense populations at the edges of bogs, fens, and wet depressions in meadows. Colonies can be very large, are usually highly polygynous, and appear at times to form large, unicolonial populations. The workers vary in size more than in most Myrmica  both within and between colonies, and show variation in sculpturing, propodeal spine length, and color. 

Because the ant is commonly collected, its variability attracted the attention of early ant taxonomists who, following the conventions of their times, named whatever variants they came across. The result was a jumble of taxon names based on small variations in color or sculpture. After much work by Creighton (1950) and Francoeur and Beique (1966), the complex is presently arranged as follows:

Myrmica incompleta Provancher, 1881 

= Myrmica rubra brevinodis Emery, 1895  = Myrmica rubra canadensis Wheeler, 1916  = Myrmica rubra subalpina Wheeler, 1917 

Myrmica whymperi Forel, 1913 

= Myrmica brevinodis sulcinodoides Wheeler, 1917  = Myrmica rubra frigida Wheeler, 1917 

Our concern here is with the name Myrmica whymperi Forel  , which is still valid. The name was established as a variety of M. brevinodis  by Forel (1913) but only a few years later Wheeler (1917) synonymized it with M. sulcinodoides  . Creighton (1950) considered this complex and found that “… it is necessary to synonymize the varieties canadensis, frigida  , subalpina, sulcinodoides  and whymperi  with brevinodis  …” as the material he examined had shown “…the impossibility of satisfactory separation on either a structural or a distributional basis. In every case the structural distinctions involved consist of exceedingly slight differences in sculpture, pilosity or color.” Thus M. whymperi  fell into synonymy with M. brevinodis  . Unfortunately, Creighton’s perspicacity in this matter was not emulated by his successors. The next year Smith (1951), without comment, removed M. sulcinodoides  from synonymy and placed it as a subspecies of M. brevinodis  . He also transferred M. frigida  and M. whymperi  from synonymy with M. brevinodis  to synonymy with M. brevinodis sulcinodoides  . Francoeur & Beique (1966), while examining the type material of Provancher, realized that what Creighton (1950) had thought was M. brevinodis  was actually Provancher’s M. incompleta  . As a result M. brevinodis  fell into synonymy with M. incompleta  and M. frigida  and M. whymperi  became synonyms of M. incompleta sulcinodoides  rather than M. brevinodis sulcinodoides  . Mackay, Lowrie et al. (1988) treat M. sulcinodoides  as a full species in their identification key although no discussion is given and no mention was made of how its synonyms should be treated. M. incompleta  and M. whymperi  (as M. sulcinodoides  ) are separated based on sculpture and color. Finally, Bolton (1995) recognized that while the name sulcinodoides  had been used as the valid name for this taxon, in fact whymperi  was the older name and had priority. Thus we arrived at the arrangement listed above.

After examining numerous specimens from throughout the range of M. incompleta  , and a syntype of M. whymperi  present in the MCZC, we are certain that Creighton (1950) was correct. All of the taxa listed above are best regarded as variants of a single geographically widespread species. This includes M. whymperi  . The syntype worker has slightly stronger sculpturing and longer propodeal spines than most examples of M. incompleta  , but specimens with similar attributes are occasionally found in populations far from the M. whymperi  type locality. In the absence of additional support for the significance of such differences, there is no reason at present to maintain M. whymperi  as a distinct species in its own right.

Myrmica incompleta  is known from southern Canada and the United States from Alaska and from California and Arizona north and east through Colorado, South Dakota and Illinois to Maine. It is the host for the xenobiotic social parasite Formicoxenus provancheri  . 














Myrmica incompleta Provancher, 1881

Shattuck, Steve & Cover, Stefan 2016


Myrmica incompleta

Provancher 1881: 359


Myrmica brevinodis var. frigida

Wheeler 1917: 502


Myrmica brevinodis whymperi

Forel 1913: 215


Myrmica brevinodis var. sulcinodoides

Wheeler 1917: 502