New 'pirate ant' species found in Laguna

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at May 31 2013 12:15 AM | Updated as of May 31 2013 08:15 AM

Cardiocondyla pirata, or the pirate ant, can be distinguished by a dark stripe across the eyes similar to the eye patch of a pirate.- Photo by Bernhard Seifert

MANILA, Philippines - Scientists have discovered a new ant species with a bizarre pigmentation pattern in Laguna province in the Philippines.

Cardiocondyla pirata or the "pirate ant" was named as such because of a black ribbon across its eyes that is similar to a pirate's blindfold, according to Universität Regensburg PhD student and ant researcher Sabine Frohschammer.

Frohschammer, in a study published in the open access scientific journal Zookeys, said the ant's bizarre pigmentation pattern has no equivalent worldwide.

The ant species was found living under large rocks at a streambed at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños' Hortorium in Laguna.

"The tiny ants were nearly invisible. Under bright light and a magnifier, we detected the nice stripe across the eyes," Frohschammer said in a statement.

The ants' markings remain a puzzle for scientists. "The poor vision and the fact that these ants mate in the dark exclude one of the most obvious hypotheses that the dark patch serve as a sign for sexual differentiation and thus a cue for recognition during mating," Frohschammer said.

"A possible guess about the function of this bizarre pirate-like coloration pattern is that it serves as a tool to distract and confuse the enemy," she added. "The combination of the dark stripes together with a rather translucent body when living could leave the impression in predators that the anterior and posterior body parts are in fact two separate objects."