University of Texas announced Monday that biologist Christian Rabeling discovered a new species of blind, subterranean, predatory ant in the Amazon rainforest, which is likely a descendant of the very first ants to evolve.
The new ant is named Martialis heureka, which translates roughly to "ant from Mars," because the ant has a combination of characteristics never before recorded. It is adapted for dwelling in the soil, is two to three millimeters long, pale, and has no eyes and large mandibles, which Rabeling and colleagues suspect it uses to capture prey.
The ant also belongs to its own new subfamily, one of 21 subfamilies in ants. This is the first time that a new subfamily of ants with living species has been discovered since 1923 (other new subfamilies have been discovered from fossil ants).
Rabeling says his discovery will help biologists better understand the biodiversity and evolution of ants, which are abundant and ecologically important insects.
"This discovery hints at a wealth of species, possibly of great evolutionary importance, still hidden in the soils of the remaining rainforests," writes Rabeling and his co-authors in a paper reporting their discovery this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(Xinhua News Agency September 16, 2008)