Six New Species of Dracula Ants Discovered in Madagascar and Seychelles

Posted on June 23, 2015

Teeth of Prionopelta vampira

Scientists have discovered six new species of Dracula ants in Madagascar and Seychelles. The new species all belong to the genus Prionopelta. They were discovered by researchers from the California Academy of Sciences. The ants get the Dracula name because of a behavior called hemolymph, where the ants distribute nutrients by wounding the young of the colony and drinking their blood.

The ants also hunt down their prey with dagger-like teeth. The teeth of Prionopelta vampira, one of the newly discovered species, are pictured above. The subterranean ants are very small. The smallest of the newly discovered species are just 1.5 mm in length and 0.2 mm wide. Researchers Rick Overson and Brian Fisher say this makes them a "barely visible fleck" to the naked eye.

The ants live either underground or deep within leaf litter on the floor of the rainforest. This fact - combined with their very small size - explains why they have not been identified until now. Another one of the newly described species, Prionopelta subtilis, is pictured below.

Prionopelta subtilis, a species of Dracula ant

The total number of Prionopelta species has increased form 15 to 21 with this new study. The new discoveries are a result of intensive sampling for over a decade by Fisher and members of the Madagascar Biodiversity Center. A research paper on the new ant species can be found here in the journal, ZooKeys.

Photos: California Academy of Sciences