Ants are insects we often find around us. Since they lead high-level interactive social lives assisting each other to survive, in Japanese, they are called ari, which written in kanji (
), literally signifies "insects of loyalty" with respect. So far, there are 273 species of ants known in Japan today. However, until some ten years ago, in spite of the efforts made by the great pioneers in ant taxonomy in Japan such as M. Yano and C. Teranishi, the scientific names of ants commonly found were not clear. This was because the majority (over 200 species) of the type specimens were stored in the natural history museums of the West, and also because there was no literature on ants available in Japan. It was a private ant researcher who resolved this unfortunate situation: his name was M. Kubota and he had spent his entire personal fortune on collecting literature on ants as well as ant specimens. Upon Kubota's initiative, a society for people interested in ants ("The Myrmecological Society of Japan") was formed in 1965, and ardent members of this society (M. Kubota, M. Kondoh, H. T. Imai, K. Onoyama, K. Ogata, M. Terayama, etc.) carried out a classification of Japanese ants in a comprehensive manner. The results of these studies were published by the Myrmecological Society of Japan into "A list of the ants of Japan with common Japanese names" (1988), "A guide for the identification of Japanese ants - Volume I (1989), followed by Volume II(1991) and Volume III(1992), "A list of references on Japanese ants" (Onoyama & Terayama, 1994) as well as "Distribution maps of Japanese ants" (Terayama & Kihara, 1994).
Later, we attempted to publish an encyclopedia of Japanese ants based on the results of the above taxonomical studies together with color photographs of ants taken by H.T.Imai and M. Kubota, but this plan was difficult to achieve because of the high cost of color printing. It was around this time that the Internet started to come into widespread use, and fortunately, we were able to obtain the cooperation of scholars of bioinformatics (Y. Tsukii, Y. Ugawa, A. Kihara), who were well versed in the use of personal computers and consequently, in January 1995, we were the first in the world to open a "Japanese Ant Color Image Database" on the Web. Although this was at first a strongly academic database focusing on the classification and identification of ants, we made improvements by placing the focus on high-grade color images and by including Gakken's Photo Encyclopedia "Ants" (Kondoh, 1979), with Gakken's permission, for the benefit of beginners, and this improved version of the database has been well received on the grounds that it serves both scientific and educational purposes. Encouraged by this success, we invited R.W. Taylor, an Australian ant taxonomist, to join us as an overseas member, and in 1998, we launched an English version of this database, which has gained high recognition and evaluation worldwide, having recorded a total of 39,740,000 accesses by March 2003. (In the past three years, the monthly average of accesses amounted to a million, and August 2002 marked the highest record of 1,950,000 accesses in a single month.)
Despite such success, the contents of the database were becoming somewhat outdated with progress recently taking place in the taxonomy of ants. Accordingly, it was decided that JADG would conduct an overall review of the database with the help of two new members: M. Yoshimura, a young ant taxonomist, and S. Kuribayashi, a professional insect photographer. As a result of this review, a revised edition in 2003 of the "Ant Image Database (Japan)" (http://ant.edb.miyakyo-u.ac.jp/) has appeared on the Web. In this revised version, we have renewed the scientific contents, improved the retrieval system, and included color photographs covering all 273 existing species, and moreover, we have newly added "The Ant Kingdom" (Kondoh, 1986) in the menu for beginners. At the same time, based on our desire for this database to serve as the groundwork for databases on ants worldwide in both scientific and educational fields, we not only deal with Japanese ants, but have also included the "Australian Ant Image Database" (R. W. Taylor) as well as the "Image Database of Japanese Ant Typespecimens housed at MCZ, Harvard University" (G. D. Alpert and E. O. Wilson).
While preparations were being made for this revised 2003 edition, many of the members of this group requested that we publish the essence of this database in an illustrated encyclopedia consisting mainly of images. After considerable efforts, we managed to receive a subsidy for publication (2002) from the Graduate University for Advanced Studies (SOKENDAI), and GAKKEN CO., LTD. kindly agreed to take on the publication. For this reason, we were able to achieve our long-cherished dream of producing an illustrated book on Japanese ants entitled "Ants of Japan". Readers accustomed to analogue information can familiarize themselves more with the information medium of printed books, which are highly realistic. However, it is also true that printed books are restricted in many ways such as the number of pages and retrieval system. To overcome these drawbacks, we included an ant image database CD-ROM as a supplement in order to provide more detailed information that could not be included in the printed book.
Having finished editing this book, we feel relieved that an overall framework for the taxonomy of Japanese ants has been organized with JADGs efforts over a period of more than 10 years. At the same time, we are acutely aware of the fact that this book still contains quite a number of specimens that are expected to have their scientific names changed in the future, and there is considerable scope for further improvements in the classification details. We intend to make the correction of these imperfections a goal of the future. In the meanwhile, however, we would be more than happy if users can trace the ants corresponding to the existing names of specimens and enjoy imagining what these ants look like by referring to the color images of this image database.