Discovery of new ant species that builds an elaborate maze

By Aniruddha Marathe and Dr. Priyadarsanan Dharmarajan

A new species of ant was discovered in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, India. ATREE’s researchers discovered the species in the community forests in Heggarane village in Sirsi when they stumbled upon an elaborate maze-like structure near a forest trail. Upon further examination, the labyrinthine structure revealed a few ants with long slender pincer like mandibles that can snap shut, much like a bear trap.

The ants looked like the species ‘Anochetus neitneri’ described from Sri Lanka 125 years ago and so far known only -from a single worker individual. However, a closer look at the petiole (a slender stalk between the abdomen and the thorax of the ant) ruled out the possibility. This species was a new discovery. Its complex nest, fortified by excavated mud and clay, is highlighted by the intricate entrance. The entrance was always situated on a small, near-vertical plane with a single large entrance pointing downwards. Similar nests were spotted in Myristica forests near Heggarane.

Seed-harvesting species of ants like the Pheidole are known to create similar fort like structures at the entrance of the nest, but in a horizontal plane. While there are no data on the method of this construction or possible advantages of such a construction, such structures could possibly help these ants prevent surface water run-off from entering the nest or to prevent raids by predators.

Owing to their unique ability to build such nests, these ants were named Anochetus Daedalus after the Greek mythological character Daedalus. (Daedalus was a legendary craftsman, who built a Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete to hold the half-man half-bull Minotaur.)

This ant species can be easily distinguished from all other Indian ant species by the presence of two pairs of denticles (small tooth or tooth-like projection) on the inner mandibular margin and the peculiar shape of the petiole.

Read the research paper by Aniruddha Marathe and Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan A new ant species of the genus Anochetus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) from India with a remarkable nest entrance architecture.