Wednesday, September 17, 2008
By Andrea Thompson
[Ants evolved more than 120 million years ago]
Christian Rabeling, an evolutionary biology graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, found the only known specimen of the new ant species in dead plant material on the ground in the Amazon rainforest at the Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria in Manaus, Brazil, in 2003.
Rabeling and his colleagues named the ant Martialis heureka (“ant from Mars”) because they’d never seen an ant like it before.
The ant is well-adapted for its underground home, with a long, pale body and no eyes. It also has long, slender forceps-like mandibles that researchers suspect the ant uses to capture prey.
M. heureka not only constitutes a new species, but a new genus and subfamily of ants as well. The new subfamily, one of 21 ant subfamilies, is the first new one to be named by scientists since 1967.
Rabeling says the discovery, detailed in the Sept. 15 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will help biologists better understand the biodiversity and evolution of ants.
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