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:
- Eurhopalothrix zipacna, named for a violent, crocodile-like Mayan demon and found in Guatemala and Honduras.
- Eurhopalothrix xibalba, or a "place of fear," for the underworld ruled by death gods in certain Mayan mythology. It lives from Honduras to Costa Rica
- Eurhopalothrix hunhau, for a major Mayan death god and a lord of the underworld. This species lives in Mexico and Guatemala.
- Eurhopalothrix semicapillum, named for partial patches of hair on its face
- Octostruma convallis, named after the curved groove across its face.
- urhopalothrix ortizae, after Patricia Ortiz, a Costa Rican naturalist who died in a rock-fall accident this year.
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.
Photos: John T. Longino, University of Utah.