Ants Are from Mars, Scientists Are from Uranus

Subterranean...blind...predatory...smokin' hot AILF! These are all adjectives that you could use to describe a newly discovered ant from the Amazon rainforest. Dubbed the Martialis heureka or "Ant from Mars" (not kidding), the sightless creature lives inside the soil and presumably hunts prey with massive mandibles. The Ant from Mars also represents a new subfamily of ant, a discovery that hasn't happened since 1923 (Note: see comments for various competing view points).

i-38b4f6fd8156bfea1b48da6eb96869ab-Ant from Mars.jpg
Take me to your watermelon.

After evaluating the DNA of the ant, researchers have concluded that this ant is on the bottom of the evolutionary ant tree, meaning it is likely a representation of early forms of ants, almost a living fossil from a time before ants evolved to live behind my refrigerator and refuse to die no matter how many freaking puddles of boric acid and poison traps I leave out and then my girlfriend blames me for being messy and leaving crumbs all over the kitchen when really these little things are so freaking tenacious that they just refuse to die and now I can't cook a meal without my girlfriend doing a freaking white glove test on everything to make sure it's clean. Ahh, the good old days.

It seems that five years ago, two specimens of the Ant from Mars were actually found, and then promptly lost (at least according to this article). Either way, University of Texas at Austin researchers Christian Rabeling, Jeremy Brown and Manfred Verhaagh published the discovery of the Ant from Mars in the latest issue of the page-turner, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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I curious to know if you pondered having "...scientists are from Uranus" as the title, but decided against going lowbrow.

Not a new subspecies, but a new genus and species.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 18 Sep 2008 #permalink

I am deeply honoured. The only thing further I can hope for is to win the Science Borg contest with that comment.

The Ant from Mars also represents a new genus and species of ant, a discovery that hasn't happened since 1923.

No. New ant species are described on a regular basis. I think the 1923 date refers to the last new subfamily of ants.

ok ok, so first it wasn't a subspecies, now its not the first new genus since 1923, so is it a subfamily? can we get a myrmecologist up in herrr?!

the web (which never lies) seems to agree on it being a new subfamily, 'Martialinae'

The designation of "subfamily" is completely arbitrary, so that's not very interesting to my mind. Much, much, much more interesting is that they are outside the clade that includes all other living ants. Since that clade has always been called Formicidae, it would seem to make more sense to me to place these newcomers outside Formicidae (which, under the ICZN, would suggest giving them their own family).

Well, we finally got that right. Someone went to the original source. Whether family or subfamily is a judgment call. I would think, from what the abstract said, that no other subfamilies have been described in the Formicidae. If so, having two subfamilies of ants is reasonable. On the other hand, I doubt, but have to run without verifying, that there are no previously described subfamilies of the formicidae. If there are, then the new ant needs to be a separate family.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 19 Sep 2008 #permalink

I hope your girlfriend has a wicked funny sense of humor.

People who work on different groups classify them in ways that suit their purposes. I've looked into ant classification, and there are a bunch of subfamilies which give you no clue as to relationships among the various subfamilies. It is thus consistant with present practice, but uninformative, to put the mars ant into a new subfamily of the Formicidae.

A classification, I think, should reflect phylogeny; but, so far as I can tell, this is not the case within the Formicidae.

If you have intercourse within your subfamily, it may or may not be incest. If you have intercourse outside your subfamily it is bestiality.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 19 Sep 2008 #permalink

My two cents as an ant taxonomist:

The current ant subfamilial classification is in fact phylogenetic. [Mostly phylogenetic, that is. There's still one paraphyletic subfamily (Cerapachyinae), but molecular work at the Smithsonian and at U.C. Davis is tackling the problem as we type.] The ranked classification doesn't have the resolution of a phylogeny, but it is compatible with phylogeny.

The problem with placing Martialis outside of Formicidae is that we'd make the recognition of true Formicidae nearly impossible. There aren't any morphological synapomorphies for the non-Martialis ants. It's a very short internode, and as strange as Martialis is, it has all three of the most easily-recognized ant synapomorphies (metapleural gland, geniculate antennae, and a constricted petiole). We'd be abandoning the most accessible way to diagnose ants.

Plus, we have fossils that likely fall even further down the tree, and many of those are uncontroversial as ants.

If I sleep with someone in my "subfamily" does that count as incest?

Or may be "insect". 8-)

By Bob Dowling (not verified) on 20 Sep 2008 #permalink

Very neat indeed! I had to look back and see if the ant found in Australia, Nothomyrmecia macrops, that was known from a 1931 specimen and then lost til 1977 was a new subfamily... but it wasn't, because it's related to the, um, butcher ants? It's still Australia's most primitive ant.

The male jack jumper ant, Myrmecia pilosula, has only a single chromosome. Can't get no fewer than that!

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 25 Sep 2008 #permalink

The intercourse within your subfamily, it may or may not be incest. If you have intercourse outside your subfamily it is bestiality.