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New Ant Species Found in Central America, Caribbean

Thursday, 01 Aug 2013 03:31 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Thirty-three new ant species have been discovered across Central America and the Caribbean.

The insects, which are approximately two millimeters in length, were primarily found among leaf litters and rotten logs on the floor of rainforests, LiveScience.com reported.

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The new species was identified by entomologist Jack Longino, a professor of biology at the University of Utah.

"The new species were found mostly in small patches of forest that remain in a largely agricultural landscape, highlighting the importance of forest conservation efforts in Central America," Longino said in a university press release.

According to Longino, about one-third of the new ant species have been named after Mayan deities.

The study was published online in the journal Zootaxa on Monday, July 29.

"These new ant species are the stuff of nightmares" when viewed under a microscope, Longino said in the school's press release.

"Their faces are broad shields, the eyes reduced to tiny points at the edges and the fierce jaws bristling with sharp teeth," Longino added. "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."

It is still unknown how the ants find prey, with their primitive compound eyes that, according to Longino, can detect light but cannot make out an object. The ants are believed to feast on soft-bodied insects, such as spiders, millipedes, and centipedes.

To conceal themselves from prey, the ants cover their bodies with a thin layer of clay.

Worldwide, there are approximately 15,000 known species of ants. The new species are differentiated from other ant species by their body structure.

"Ants are everywhere. They are one of the big elements of ecosystems, like birds and trees," Longino said in the press release. "Some act as predators and influence the population sizes of other insects by eating them, [while others] move seeds around and have a big impact on what kind of plants grow where."

Ants also aerate soil, which is good for plants, Longino added.

While just 15,000 ant species have been identified thus far, Longino estimates that there could be as many as "100,000 ant species," as geneticists analyze more ants across the globe.

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Related stories:

'Crazy' Ants Kill Other Species and Electronics, And They're Spreading

Canadian Scientists Create Monster Ants

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