New endemic ants from the Andamans

There's more to the Andamans than magical beaches and colourful corals. Scientists have discovered two new ant species of the genus Tetramorium in the evergreen forests of the archipelago.

Scientists of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, Japan have discovered the new species Tetramorium krishnani and Tetramorium jarawa during a detailed island-wide survey of Havelock Island, a part of the Andaman archipelago. The species are named in honour of late scientist K.S. Krishnan of the NCBS, and after the Jarawas, an indigenous people of the islands, who are thought to have inhabited the islands for at least several thousand years.

The newly discovered ants dwell in leaf litter in the evergreen forests of Havelock Island and are endemic to the Andamans. In total, the study recorded the presence of 50 ant species, many of which have been recorded for the first time.

The study published in PeerJ also provides accounts of all Tetramorium ant species seen in India and an illustrated identification 'key' for these Indian species, which allows ant enthusiasts to use the distinct features of an ant to identify what species it belongs to.

In a first for India, the team used a novel X-ray micro CT technology to build 3D models of the ant specimens to observe anatomical structures in detail for easier taxonomic identification of the species. These 3D images can be mapped with the genetic profiles of species using the new technology to study the evolution of ant morphology.

“We are excited about the discovery, though we did expect to come across new species because we know very little about India's ant species, they are not well-documented,” says Gaurav Agavekar, one of the authors. “I hope to sample other islands of the archipelago in future, as well as mainland India to generate quality baseline data for ants across the country, which can be used to answer interesting ecological and evolutionary questions.”