Ant expert surprised to discover new species in his own backyard

13 Nov 2019

The Strumigenys ananeote ant. Image: Jack Longino/University of Utah

An ant expert who has travelled the world in search of new species didn’t have to look too far for his latest discovery.

Sometimes what you’re looking for may be right under your nose or, in the case of global ant expert Jack Longino, in your own backyard. The University of Utah researcher recently published a paper with his colleague Douglas Booher in Western North American Naturalist documenting the discovery of a new species Longino has called Strumigenys ananeotes, meaning ‘newly emerged’.

Longino was in his garden in August 2018 just after dark when he spotted four ants in his garden that looked very much out of place. After returning the next day to investigate, he dug deeper into the earth to find more of the species that looked similar to those seen in the tropics or from deciduous forests in the eastern US.

‘We hope this discovery will encourage naturalists to don headlamps and head out into the backyard’

He initially thought that the species was invasive, having been brought into the area through commercial potting soil. However, after bringing a few of the ants to the lab, he could see it was a distinct new species native to the region, but similar to ones found in the nearby US state of Arizona.

The ants, Longino said, like warm, moist habitats that Utah’s typically dry climate provides. Now, more than 150 years of irrigation and the introduction of forest may have encouraged the underground dwellers to come to the surface.

“We hope this discovery will encourage naturalists to don headlamps and hand lenses and head out into the backyard on warm summer nights,” the pair of researchers wrote.

This discovery follows last month’s revelation that an ant living in the intense heat of the Sahara desert has evolved to become the fastest of its kind ever recorded.

Researchers from the University of Ulm in Germany clocked the ant with a running speed of 855mm per second, thanks to legs that can swing at speeds of up to 1,300mm per second.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic