Thursday, August 4, 2016

A new ant: Paratopula bauhinia

(c) The University of Hong Kong
While some might think that new species are only discovered in deep pristine forests, this new ant species was found just a few hundred meters from the campus of  University of Hong Kong during a night field course. The unusually large size of the ant (about 7mm long) and its golden appearance piqued the curiosity of  a research assistant of the School of Biological Sciences, to collect it for further detailed inspection. 

The newly described species has been given the scientific name Paratopula bauhinia, in reference to the Bauhinia flower, symbol of Hong Kong. Indirectly, the name also refers to the arboreal nature of the ant. Indeed, this species seems to live on trees and forage only at dusk and at night where it can be found on lower vegetation and human-made structures. 

For the experts: Despite its relatively large size among the Myrmicinae of the Indomalayan region, collection events of Paratopula Wheeler are rare. Here we discuss the discovery of Paratopula in Hong Kong and present Paratopula bauhinia sp. nov as a new species. This addition brings the number of globally described species for the genus to twelve species, four of which are known only from the reproductive caste. Paratopula bauhinia sp. nov. can be distinguished from previously described species by the combination of the following features: 10 teeth on the masticatory margin of mandibles, apically acute hairs, a rounded median portion of the anterior margin of the pronotum, postpetiole broader than long, and straight, blunt propodeal spines. A revised key for the eight species of Paratopula known from the worker caste is provided. Additionally, the female caste of Rotastruma stenoceps Bolton is described for the first time. The rarity of these two genera are also discussed on the basis of their potentially nocturnal and arboreal habits.

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