Dr. John Longino, an ant expert in the Department of Biology at the University of Utah, has discovered a new ant species in an urban yard in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In August 2018, Dr. Longino caught a glimpse of four ants in his garden that really looked out of place.
The next day he dug deeper and found more specimens.
They reminded him of Strumigenys — litter-dwelling ants that are found primarily in the wet tropics and subtropics.
Dr. Longino originally thought the ants had been introduced to the area, possibly through the commercial potting soil, and would be some known species from elsewhere.
But a close look in the lab revealed that it was a distinct new species, almost certainly native to the region, with similarities to related species in Arizona.
He surmised that the ant, named Strumigenys ananeotes, has been living underground in Utah’s typically dry climate.
More than 150 years of irrigation and introduced forest, however, may have given the ant courage to once again come to the surface.
“New and important discoveries could be waiting close to home,” said Dr. Longino and his colleague, Dr. Douglas Booher from the University of Illinois and the Georgia Museum of Natural History.
“We hope that this discovery will encourage naturalists to don headlamps and hand lenses and head out into the backyard on warm summer nights.”
John T. Longino Douglas B. Booher. 2019. Expect the unexpected: a new ant from a backyard in Utah. Western North American Naturalist 79 (4): 3