Basketballs in the trees

On my recent visit to the coastal forests of Kwazulu-Natal I noticed basketball-like growths on many of the Acacia trees.  In North America, any large gray ball you see hanging off a tree branch is liable to be a hornet’s nest.  In South America, it’s probably a carton nest of fierce little Azteca ants. The equivalent in South Africa?  I didn’t know.

A little bit of poking around in the acacias revealed the culprit.  It was Crematogaster tricolor, an orange ant about half a centimeter long:

They didn’t appreciate the disturbance, apparently, because they came after me without hesitation:


  1. #1 cuckoowasp
    August 22, 2008

    Any significant Schmidt rating? Beautiful shots, as always.

  2. #2 James C. Trager
    August 22, 2008

    I’m going to guess the Schmidt rating for this one is fairly low, as it is for most (all?) Crematogaster spp. Indeed, I think the most any species in this genus does is pinch with the mandibles, then smear venom with a spatulate sting, rather than pierce and inject venom. But they make up for the small pain inflicted by an individual with aggressive behavior and numbers!

    The ant is a beauty, well-named, and beautifully rendered in the images.

  3. #3 Jason Stephen
    August 23, 2008


  4. #4 Techuser
    August 27, 2008

    Im in south america and have seen some of those balls hanging on the trees, but always abandoned

  5. #5 Johan Pretorius
    August 29, 2008

    James you’re right – the rating is very low. They will quickly swarm all over the parts of your body touching any substrate to which the nest is attached and bite – which is more irritating than painfull.

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