Bengaluru: Three researchers from Bengaluru-based research organisation named Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) have discovered two new species of a rare ant genus Myrmecina, for the first time in Mizoram forests.
The discovery of two new species marks the first record of the Myrmecina genus from the state of Mizoram, the three member research team claims in a statement.
The team led by ATREE's senior fellow, Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan told IANS that ATREE is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and so the team has decided to name one of the new species Myrmecina bawai in honour of the founder president of ATREE, Kamaljit S. Bawa, renowned evolutionary ecologist and conservation biologist.
"Myrmecina bawaiis unique from all its congeners in India with its remarkable yellow coloured body with a dark tinge," he said.
The research team did an extensive sampling in Mizoram state as part of - Bioresource and Sustainable livelihoods in North East India - which was supported by the Department of Biotechnology.
The research was carried out in the Indo-Burma hotspot region from April 2019 and collected samples from almost all the protected areas and community reserve forests of Mizoram.
"We had a strong feeling of finding something interesting in the beautiful landscape of Mizoram. That feeling made us explore deep forest regions where there are no signs of anthropogenic disturbances," Rajan said.
He added that the team used the non-conventional collection method, the Winkler extractor for collecting ant samples from the leaf litter.
"After coming back from the field, while cleaning and sorting specimens under the microscope we found a small yellow coloured ant, quite different from many common ants. We were pretty sure the ant under a microscope is something interesting. Finally, it turns out to be a new species after careful examination of morphological characters," he said.
When the team had started this study, 57 species of ants were known from Mizoram and with the discovery of these two new species, the team claims that they are adding another 20 more species to the ant fauna of Mizoram.
According to him, Myrmecina being cryptic ants, are rarely encountered in visual surveys and their biology and behaviour are poorly known.
"These ants live in small colonies of 30 to 150 individuals under stones or decaying wood," he said and added that many of us may consider ants annoying, but this tiny creature is a super-organism, plays an important role in the ecosystem as seed dispersers, predators and pollinators.
A large number of ants have a crypto biotic lifestyle where they live in hidden habitats such as beneath the leaf litter or decaying wood or stone. These include several species unknown to science.
The team said in a statement that two workers of Myrmecina bawai were collected from Phawngpui National Park, often called Blue Mountain National Park. This is the highest mountain peak in Mizoram with a maximum altitude of 2157 m above sea level.
"We found Myrmecina bawai in a shaded region at an elevation of 1619 m above sea level," said the researchers in a statement.
Rajan said that this new species has a remarkable and unique reticulated sculpture on the gaster (abdomen).
"This unique sculpture on the gaster made us name the species Myrmecina reticulata. The collection site of Myrmecina reticulata sits in the Dampa Tiger Reserve, Mamit district at an elevation of 409 m above sea level of Mizoram, a part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot region," the team said.
Only seven confirmed Myrmecina are found in India and these species are found in states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Sikkim too.