U of U professor discovers 33 new ant species

Posted at 10:25 PM, Aug 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-04 00:25:45-04

SALT LAKE CITY – A University of Utah professor has identified 33 new species of ants, and several of them are quite scary looking.

Jack Longino teaches biology at the U of U, and he said ants are ubiquitous.

“Ants are everywhere,” he said. “They're a big part of the ecosystem. Almost every language has a word for ants. People know what they are."

Longino spent time in Central America this summer collecting bags of tiny ants.

"I use various techniques to extract these small, small organisms, bring them back to the lab, and most of the work is done under a microscope,” he said.

Longino said he identified the ants in the lab, as it is nearly impossible to identify them while out in the field.

"It's not like you're in the field and you see something crawling along and you're like, ‘A-Ha, Eureka! I have found a new species.’ it's a little more difficult than that,” he said.

Longino said some of the ants he’s found look monstrous under the microscope.

"The big winged extensions on the side of the head, it kind of looks like the monster in 'Independence Day,’" he said.

And that wasn’t the only parallel Longino drew between the ants and science fiction movies.

"The way the mandibles kind of move in a funny way looks kind of like the movie ‘Predator', and the bristly teeth look kind of like the monster in 'Alien,’” he said.

Longino said he gets the honor of naming the new ant species since he discovered them, and he said he chose some Mayan names.

"In this case, it was actually one of my students that said, ‘Jack, you really ought to name this things after Mayan Demons,’” he said. “We named one Eurhopalothrix zipacna, who was one of these Mayan Gods."

Longino said the scary looking ants aren’t a cause for concern because they are all dead before he brings them back to the lab.

"I'm not exactly the ant whisperer, I'm more the ant grim reaper,” he said.