Myrmecology continues apace! This week saw the publication of a particularly interesting new ant genus, Cyatta, from Brazil.
Why the excitement over this discovery? First, Cyatta is an attine fungus-growing ant, and attines are a multi-species system and a rich model for studies of co-evolution across microbes, fungi, animals, and plants. Attines are farmers, cultivating a specialized underground fungus from bits of detritus or, in the case of the spectacular leafcutters, from live vegetation. The ants also foster an array of organisms that live on their bodies, some of which produce agrochemicals that protect their gardens from weeds. Any new species of attine enriches our ability to study this system.
But Cyatta is not just another Trachymyrmex. This new ant occupies an unusual space in the attine tree. Cyatta, along with its sister Kalathomyrmex, doesn’t share recent ancestry with other attines, instead tracing its origin to near the origin of the whole tribe. As such, it will provide another perspective from which to triangulate our inferences of how ant agriculture developed.
Here is the molecular tree:
For example, Cyatta gardens resemble those of Kalathomyrmex and Mycocepurus, strengthening our inference that simple suspended gardens were the form used by the ancestor of all neoattines. And the presence of larval anchor hairs employed in other genera to hang larvae along the sides of the nest chamber (see Clint Penick’s research), suggests that brood-hanging may have been present in the early attines but was subsequently lost.
One final gripe- because I always have a gripe- is that all authors of the paper are also listed as authors of the genus and species. This makes the formal name for the new ant an impressive:
Cyatta abscondita Sosa-Calvo, Schultz,
Brandão, Klingenberg, Feitosa, Rabeling,
Bacci, Lopes & Vasconcelos 2013
This moniker will be a handful for people who handle taxonomic databases, or for taxonomists who will need to write about this ant. I doubt all authors contributed equally to the written description embedded in the paper; surely a separate, smaller authorship for the description would have made for a less cumbersome name.
In that vein, does anyone know if there is a longer authorship for any animal species? This is the largest I’ve seen.
Sosa-Calvo J, Schultz TR, Brandão CRF, Klingenberg C, Feitosa RM, et al. (2013) Cyatta abscondita: Taxonomy, Evolution, and Natural History of a New Fungus-Farming Ant Genus from Brazil. PLoS ONE 8(11): e80498. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080498