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Six new Dracula ants from Madagascar: Minor workers become queens in Mystrium

Date:
March 31, 2014
Source:
Pensoft Publishers
Summary:
Entomologists have discovered six new species of Dracula ants from Madagascar and its surrounding islands. They suggest the small, wingless queens of the genus Mystrium are modified minor workers -- a revolutionary finding in the anatomy-is-destiny world of ants. The authors have developed a new taxonomic framework for this complicated group with innovative pictorial keys to species for all castes.

This is a pictorial key combining full-focused color images and drawing.
Credit: AntWeb and Dr. Masashi Yoshimura; CC-BY 4.0

Six new species of Dracula ants from the Malagasy region have been discovered by scientists at the California Academy of Sciences. The discoveries, by postdoctoral fellow Masashi Yoshimura from Japan and curator of entomology Brian L. Fisher, represent a completely new twist in the typically rigid caste system of ants, where anatomy is typically destiny. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

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"The genus Mystrium is the most mysterious group within the bizarre Dracula ants," said Yoshimura.

Mystrium species have unique features such as long, spatulate mandibles that snap together (Gronenberg et al. 1998); wingless queens that in some undetermined species are even smaller than workers (Molet et al. 2007); and large, wingless individuals intermediate between workers and queens, which behave like queens (Molet et al. 2012).

"Mystrium was a difficult group to identify because of the remarkable variation within each species." Yoshimura said.

"Our team has explored Madagascar and its surrounding islands for 20 years and collected thousands of specimens to solve the mysteries of Mystrium," said Fisher, an expert on Malagasy ants.

Fisher explained why Mystrium poses such a fiendish problem Mystrium to taxonomists, who identify new and different species. "Mystrium has three different styles in reproduction within a single genus, and the role of an individual in a colony is not always obvious by its appearance. Ants that look similar may be minor workers in one species but queens in another species." This makes classifying the Dracula ants extremely difficult, he said.

"The discovery of the division of females into major and minor forms were the key to solving this complicated puzzle," explained Yoshimura. "We found that all species in Mystrium share a common original components consisting of male, usual large queen, and major and minor workers. Furthermore, the major or minor workers develop as reproductives in some species and even take over queen's position. They are revolutionaries finding in the anatomy-is-destiny world of ants! Taxonomists usually compare the anatomy of ants of the same caste to find differences between species. But in the case of the genus Mystrium, we need to compare individuals from the same original phenotype, not on the their current functional role (caste)," he said.

The authors have reclassified all species into three subgroups based on the reproductive styles, and developed a new taxonomic framework for this complicated group featuring innovative pictorial keys to the species. The illustrations include color photographs showing every hair in focus (produced using a computer-assisted method called auto-montage), and drawings for all castes. The paper looks more like a picture book than your average scientific treatise. "I learned drawing techniques from Japanese manga," Yoshimura says.

"To name three of the species we chose words that evoke the air of mystery around this genus, calling them Mystrium labyrinth, Mystrium mirror, and Mystrium shadow." Yoshimura said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Pensoft Publishers. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Masashi Yoshimura, Brian Fisher. A revision of the ant genus Mystrium in the Malagasy region with description of six new species and remarks on Amblyopone and Stigmatomma (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Amblyoponinae). ZooKeys, 2014; 394: 1 DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.394.6446

Cite This Page:

Pensoft Publishers. "Six new Dracula ants from Madagascar: Minor workers become queens in Mystrium." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331114229.htm>.
Pensoft Publishers. (2014, March 31). Six new Dracula ants from Madagascar: Minor workers become queens in Mystrium. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331114229.htm
Pensoft Publishers. "Six new Dracula ants from Madagascar: Minor workers become queens in Mystrium." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331114229.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

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