Friday, April 2, 2010

Genus name change for the Rasberry crazy ant

In a recent article buried in a journal devoted to the classification of insects, three entomologists have come to a conclusion that changes the scientific name of what we in Texas have come to refer to as the Rasberry crazy ant. The paper (cited as LaPolla, J.S., S.G. Brady, S.O. Shattuck. 2010. Phylogeny and taxonomy of the Prenolepis genus-group of ants. Systematic entomology, 35: 118-131) is not likely to make the Book of the Month Club, but is a good example of how progress is made in the science of insect classification.

The authors reached their conclusions after sifting through the DNA sequences found in five genes in 50 closely related ant species.  All but one of the ant species formerly called Paratrechina, were reclassified into three new genera.  The sole remaining Paratrechina species is one that PMPs in many parts of Texas are well acquainted with.  The true crazy ant, Paratrechina longicornis, was the first ant to be called Paratrechina (type species).  DNA analysis shows that P. longicornis was not directly related to all the other ants that have since been given the name Paratrechina.  So because it was named first, it gets to retain its genus name under rules of priority, while all the other species are renamed.

Most of the ants with new names, including the Rasberry crazy ant (133 species and subspecies in all) are now classified in the genus Nylanderia.  This means the Rasberry crazy ant will now be referred to as Nylanderia species near pubens.This change is confirmed by Danny McDonald, the graduate researcher who has taken over the study of N. sp. nr. pubens from recent grad Jason Myers, and who is in the process of defending his dissertation proposal on the "fecundity, vector potential, foraging activity, bait preference, and human mitigated and natural population growth of Nylanderia sp. nr. pubens." Good luck Danny...sounds like you'll need it.

If, like me, you find it a little hard to digest all these Latin names, perhaps a little haiku will make it easier:
Glistens, furtive among leaves
on the forest floor.

Feelers like jointed threads;
Loves it hot, runs crazy-fast;
Blue reflective hints.  
Written by James Trager, the last person to attempt a large-scale revision of the Paratrechina, and shamelessly swiped from the Myrmecology Ant Farm Forum. Thank you Dr. Ant!

LaPolla and colleagues note that they will be continuing work to revise the genus Nylanderia.  I hope this means that they'll quickly figure out whether the Rasberry crazy ant is the same as, or a different species, from the other tropical crazy ant, Nylanderia pubens.

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