Zatania albimaculata, from Cuba. Zatania is a modest assemblage of 5 living and one fossil species found in Central America and the Caribbean. (image: Antweb.org)

I’ve been remiss in not mentioning the latest addition to the world list of ant genera: Zatania LaPolla, Kallal & Brady 2011. This perky little formicine is not new in the sense that the insects have just been discovered. Rather, it is new in that the previous inclusion of its species in an existing genus, Prenolepis, made increasingly little sense under the weight of phylogenetic evidence showing the two groups to be distant relatives (LaPolla et al 2010).  In a new paper, John LaPolla, Robert Lallal, and Seán Brady create Zatania to hold the errant species. Both genera share a similar constriction of the mesosoma (visible above just aft of the fore coxa), but evidence from DNA sequence and males suggests this trait may be convergent.

Indeed, one of the discussion points from LaPolla et al’s paper- and one I fully support- is that myrmecologists should move away from the exclusively worker-based taxonomies traditional to the discipline. Worker ants are great, of course. They are the most commonly collected caste, and often the most practical to use for identification. But they aren’t perfect. Workers are a colony’s primary interface with the world, and their morphology is liable to track ecology and behavior in ways that create confusing morphological convergences. Males, gynes, and genetics can help clarify which traits are convergent, and which reflect ancestral states, leading to a more stable taxonomy and a more mature understanding of the biology of the ants.


source: LaPolla J. S., Kallal R. J., Brady S. G. (2012) A new ant genus from the Greater Antilles and Central America, Zatania (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), exemplifies the utility of male and molecular character systems. Systematic Entomology, 37: 200-214.