A new ant with eyespots for defense?

Great to see Alex back, and with such a beautiful shot. I had a little post ready, so I figured I would go ahead and put it up. Maybe it will give Alex a little bit more time to recuperate after what sounds like a tough journey back.

One of the things I have discovered about studying a diverse arboreal group in a system that allows such easy access to the canopy is that undescribed species are relatively plentiful. In my main cerrado site, I have 17 Cephalotes species and 3 of them are undescribed. In my fist study at a second site, just 30Km down the road, a fourth new species showed up. All of these species are exciting in their own way, but one is particularly striking. I thought I would share a few shots with you. The main point of interest that I wanted to talk about is the coloration, and particularly the eyespots in the gyne.


Why might these eyespots be there? Well, evidence suggests that Cephalotes are quite distasteful, so the best explanation is that this is some kind of aposematic coloration. While eyespots are remarkably rare in ants as a whole, they are quite common in Cephalotes. In my experience, though, they are rarely this pleasing to the human eye (or at least this myrecologist’s eyes). After mating, Cephalotes gynes roam the canopy in search of a suitable cavity to start their colony. Hanging out in trees for a couple of years, I have seen this searching behavior many times, but never managed to get a decent shot of it (unlike more talented photographers).

The soldier caste has a similar coloration to the gynes. While this could be nonadaptive developmental spillover from the gyne (it fades out in smaller members of the soldier caste), it may also have some adaptive value. Soldiers, the relatively rare and expensive sterile caste, shuttle between the colony’s various nests on a daily basis, so the eyespots may help ward off possible predators while they do it.


As for what I should call this gorgeous ant, I have a few ideas, but I would love to hear what you all think in the comments.

5 thoughts on “A new ant with eyespots for defense?”

  1. I have seen gynes of various Cephalotes species in collections with similar well-marked spots on tergum IV. I may have collected one gyne is Veracruz, Mexico, like this. I can’t check for you since I’m away from the AMNH for some time though.

    It will be nice if you can solve this puzzle out.

    Btw, I never noticed until now that the tibia on both the gynes and soldiers are also unpigmented and transparent like the gastral spots.

    Maybe the ovaries of the gynes and soldiers are photosynthetic. OK, that was a random stupid comment, but hey its April 1st.

  2. James C. Trager

    Cephalotes “ophthalmotes” has a nice ring to it, and is (almost) good Greek. I like the grammatical harmony, but just as much, I like the sound of the more classically coined names better than the cacophony of the random letter combinations that have become popular of late.

    While we’ve still got you here, Scott, want to say something about how these ants deal with the cerrado fires?

  3. lovely ants! Coloration is very different. But how come I don’t see any jaws? And I don’t understand why eyespots may help ward off possible predators. Can someone explain? One more thing, does “Cephalotes” generally represent the subfamily Myrmicinae?

  4. I don’t think you can improve on Cephalotes ophthalmotes! I too love the phonetic harmony and classical sound.

    I know there’s a rule against it, but my first thought was Cephalotes i.

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