Changing Planet

New “Pirate” Ant Discovered in the Philippines

A new species of ant, the pirate ant, sports eye patches. Photograph courtesy Bernhard Seifert

Image of the 125 Anniversary logo The pirate ant might not be able to make you walk the plank, but dark-colored patches around their eyes certainly make this new species look like they could bully ants off a ship.

Discovered by a team of German scientists while on a trip to the Philippines, Cardiocondyla pirata was found living under a rock—literally. PhD student Sabine Frohschammer  from the University of Regensburg and her colleague Bernhard Seifert from Senckenberg Museum of Natural History Gorlitz were searching for Cardiocondyla ants in a shady streambed when she saw individuals that didn’t look like any other known species.

Researchers found the pirate ant near a stream in the Philippines. lives in this habitat. Photograph courtesy Sabine Frohschammer
Researchers found the pirate ant near a stream in the Philippines. Photograph courtesy Sabine Frohschammer

“Due to the darkness of the rainforest and the translucent body parts of the tiny ants, they were nearly invisible,” Frohschammer said in a press release.

As she looked more closely, however, Frohschammer knew she had found something special. Some of the females she had gathered had unusual coloration around their eyes—dark patches that reminded Frohschammer of the eye patches worn by some pirates.

A search of the research literature revealed that Frohschammer’s initial hunch was correct: Not only was this an entirely new species of ant, the coloration was unique as well. The researchers recently reported their find in the journal ZooKeys.

The dark, eye patch-like pattern on the new ant speices. Photograph courtesy Bernhard Seifert
The dark, eye-patch-like pattern on the new ant species. Photograph courtesy Bernhard Seifert

But unlike Captain Hook, these ants don’t live on a pirate ship. Instead, Frohschammer believes that the ants live their entire lives buried underground in almost complete darkness. Their eyes reflect their lives in the dark, as they contain an abnormally small number of light receptors.

If the pirate ants live in the dark and can’t see very well, this makes it unlikely that the eye patch is used either as a signal during mating or as a way for individuals to recognize other members of their species, Frohschammer noted in the study.

Her current hypothesis is that the eye patch serves to confuse and distract predators. The dark stripe seems to divide the ant’s tiny, translucent head in two, which could make predators think that such a ridiculously small morsel isn’t worth their time. Frohschammer still isn’t sure what, if any, predators might be consuming them.

It wouldn’t be the first time a pirate tried to conceal buried treasure.

Carrie is a freelance science writer living in Virginia. When she's not writing about cool critters, she's spending time outside, drinking coffee, or knitting. You can visit her website at http://www.carriearnold.com
  • shadi

    Is it just me or don’t the colors make these ants so beautiful?

  • Akhil Kapadia

    Are these the smallest ants in the world? If not, then which ones are?

  • Ana Liza Bersabal

    Oh!! Amazing 🙂

  • Mitchell Annand

    Very interesting discovery! can’t say I’m fond of the name however… I would have called it a Honeycomb Ant because of the appearance of its abdomen. I’m no Entomologist though.

  • Mitchell Annand

    “Cardiocondyla Favum” even the Latin naming is nicer!

  • rommel m. vidal

    This ant is pretty cool. I hope i meet them personally..:-p

  • Trina Risos

    Hi Carrie. Where exactly in the Philippines did they discover the species? Thank you.

  • Dee

    “It wouldn’t be the first time a pirate tried to conceal buried treasure.”

    I see what you did there.

  • 007

    Haha, love the article, and the closing line!

  • rodel fedillaga

    like…..

  • ian c. martin

    Its more fun in the Philippines!!!!!…….love yah motherland…..c”,)nai

  • Daniel Monge

    interesting but absolutely horrible puns.

  • corey

    not new, new found.

  • Chudamani Akavaram

    Such ants and weird creatures like these,though not a God’ s creation are a creation of nature happening throughout time,I believe.

  • youness ramzi

    بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم /
    و ما أوتيتم من علم إلا قليل و صدق الله العظيم
    هذا دليل أن الأرض لم تظهر ما تسره من أسرار ؟ و ـاكدوا أن العلم هو ما يوحد تقدم البشرية جمعاء ؟ و كل اكتشاف هو بداية لإكتشاف آخر ؟

  • Mario Antonio G. Lopez

    This new species is one reason that we cannot allow the destruction of our natural heritage. There is so much we do not know and understand about our world and our place in it.

  • jenny

    The creator has not stopped creating.This is not a new discovery its a new creation.

  • pushparaj

    work like ant

  • Ira Gavilan

    This is the first magnified photo I’ve seen of an ant – seeing it’s translucent parts and patched-eye is quite amazing!…and discovered in my own country at that 😉

  • d.k

    wow its super amazing to now their a new species of ant that live here in the philippines freaking cool

  • Sophia Espanola

    that’s a weird looking ant but i guess that means that there are some insects we never seen before like this one

  • Akeem Adesokan

    Wow that was great.imagine some species that has destroyed by pollution,oil spillage etc

  • Albritch Adam

    Oh.. a new specie!! Our biodiversity is very rich here in the Philippines but due to wrong use and implementations of the laws concerning our environment it is now in danger….

  • Bill Pilgrim

    Another ” Natural Wonder”” of so much beauty and scientific interest. All thinking people must believe that there will be so much more to seek out amongst all the forest land that is being torn apart for a quick profit. Can we somehow stop this loss?

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