Saturday 26 April 2014

A new species of Thief Ant from Saudi Arabia.

Thief Ants of the genus Solenopsis are one of the most numerous and widespread Ant groups, particularly in the tropics. However they are not greatly studied or understood, despite the fact that some species are invasive pests, due largely to their small size, pale colouration and cryptic habits, which can make species hard to differentiate even for experts. Thief Ants have two separate worker casts, known as Major and Minor Workers, differentiated by their size.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 30 November 2012, Mostafa Sharaf and Abdulrahman Aldawood of the Plant Protection Department at the College of Food and Agriculture Sciences at King Saud University in Riyadh describe a new species of Thief Ant from Al Baha Province, Saudi Arabia.

The new species is named Solenopsis elhawagryi, after Magdi El-Hawagry of Cairo University and Al Baha University. It is described from a colony found living under a rock in Elqamh Park in Al Baha Province, an of area of Acacia and Juniper forest with numerous pools of water and a significant level of soil humidity, particularly in the rainy season. However, despite an extensive search effort, no further colonies could be found either in the park or the surrounding Asir Mountains, so it is unclear if the species is native to the area.

The workers of Solenopsis elhawagryi are  sandy yellow in colour. Minor Workers reach 1.55-1.82 mm in length, while Major Workers reach 1.87-2.62 mm. The Queen is a darker brown colour, the sole known specimen being 4.30 mm in length. Major Workers can be differentiated from other species in the area by a darker brownish yellow patch between the eyes and scattered yellowish spots on the body. Minor Workers can only be differentiated from other species by the structure of the mouthparts.

Solenopsis elhawagryi specimens in lateral view. (Top) Minor Worker, (middle) Major Worker, (bottom) Queen. Sharaf & Aldawood (2012).

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