33 New Ant Species Discovered in Central America. Some Named After Mayan Lords and Demons

Posted on July 30, 2013

University of Utah entomologist and biology professor John T. Longino has identified 33 new species of predatory ants in Central America and the Caribbean. Some of the monstrous-looking insects were named after ancient Mayan lords and demons.

The new ant species are less than one-twelfth to one-twenty-fifth of an inch long. They have primitive compound eyes and crawl around the leaf litter to hunt prey, which is presumed to be soft-bodied insects, spiders, millipedes and centipedes. They ants sometimes coat themselves with a thin layer of clay for camouflage.

Longino says in a statement, "These new ant species are the stuff of nightmares when viewed under a microscope. Their faces are broad shields, the eyes reduced to tiny points at the edges and the fierce jaws bristling with sharp teeth. They look a little like the monster in 'Alien.' They're horrifying to look at up close. That's sort of what makes them fun."

Some of the names for the ants include:

The faces of some of the new species feature what is known as the labrum, which is like an upper lip, and jaws that open and close sideways instead of up and down as teeth on the jaws clamp down on prey. Octostruma convallis, pictured below, has these sideways-moving jaws. Longino says, "If you really want a movie monster that freaks people out, have the jaws go side to side."

Longino says the adult ants eat only liquids and not solid foods, so the ants bring prey back to the nest, where ant larvae eat it and regurgitate it, which the adult ants then eat.

The new research was online Monday, July 29 in the journal Zootaxa. Longino has now discovered 131 ant species in his career.

More from Science Space & Robots