Myrmecos

New Species: Trachymyrmex pomonae

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Trachymyrmex pomonae Rabeling & Cover 2007

Arizona

Nothing warms the heart more than a new ant species close to home! An all-star team of ant specialists, headed by Christian Rabeling at the University of Texas, describe the Arizonan species Trachymyrmex pomonae in Zootaxa this week. This spiny little red insect is part of a New World evolutionary radiation of agricultural ants, the attines, that cultivate a fungus in underground chambers. Trachymyrmex pomonae is one of several Trachymyrmex species in the United States, with dozens more occurring in Central and South America.

New species discovery is not so simple as finding a critter in the woods and declaring “Eureka!” A background knowledge of related species is essential for recognizing something novel. Trachymyrmex has been an especially challenging group of ants in this regard, as the published taxonomy of the group is limited and many of the species are confusingly similar. In the absence of a taxonomic synthesis, one is reduced to using isolated taxonomic papers written decades ago on individual species and going through endless drawers of museum specimens. Fortunately, Rabeling et al. do exactly that for the North American Trachymyrmex, and on top of it they throw in DNA sequence data from two loci sampled across multiple populations per species. Once the dust settled, they inferred the existence of nine species but had only eight valid, pre-existing names to apply to them. The extra species became the new T. pomonae.

Students of the biannual Ant Course in Arizona might recognize T. pomonae. It is not an uncommon ant around the Southwestern Research Station in Portal where the course is taught. If you’re an Arizona Ant Course alumnus, check your collection!

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Source: Rabeling, C., Cover, S. P., Johnson, R.A., and Mueller, U.G. 2007. A review of the North American species of the fungus-gardening ant genus Trachymyrmex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zootaxa 1664: 1-53.

Comments

  1. #1 guest
    December 20, 2007

    what do you mean “biannual”?

  2. #2 myrmecos
    December 20, 2007

    Ah. Perhaps I should have said “biennial.” What I meant was, the Ant Course occurs in Arizona once every two years.

  3. #3 guest
    December 21, 2007

    o.. I thought they decide to hold it twice a year. This would be great ;)

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