Six New Species of Dracula Ants Discovered in Madagascar
Posted on April 2, 2014
Six new Dracula ants have been discovered in Madagascar by scientists at the California Academy of Sciences. Masashi Yoshimura from Japan and curator of entomology Brian L. Fisher made the discovery. The ants belong to the genus Mystrium. Ants in this genus are known for having unique features such as long, spatulate mandibles that snap together and wingless queens that are smaller than worker ants. An entry on Arkive.org says Dracula ants "scratch and chew holes into their larvae and suck out the hemolymph." It doesn't kill the larvae but they don't like as frightened larvae have been observed trying to escape the worker ants.
Three of the new species names are Mystrium labyrinth, Mystrium mirror, and Mystrium shadow. Fisher says classifying Dracula ants can be very difficult.
Fisher says in a statement, "Mystrium has three different styles in reproduction within a single genus, and the role of an individual in a colony is not always obvious by its appearance. Ants that look similar may be minor workers in one species but queens in another species."
Yoshimura says, "The discovery of the division of females into major and minor forms were the key to solving this complicated puzzle. We found that all species in Mystrium share a common original components consisting of male, usual large queen, and major and minor workers. Furthermore, the major or minor workers develop as reproductives in some species and even take over queen's position. They are revolutionaries finding in the anatomy-is-destiny world of ants! Taxonomists usually compare the anatomy of ants of the same caste to find differences between species. But in the case of the genus Mystrium, we need to compare individuals from the same original phenotype, not on the their current functional role (caste)."
The research was published here in ZooKeys.
Photo: Brian Fisher