Berlin: Scientists have discovered a new ant species from the Philippines and named it the `pirate ant` because of a distinctive dark stripe across its eyes that resemble a pirate eye patch.
Cardiocondyla pirata or the pirate ant has a bizarre pigmentation pattern in its eyes.
The female castes in the colonies of these species can be recognised by the dark stripe across the eyes that resembles a pirate eye patch, which inspired the authors to choose the name of the species.
"On a collection trip to the Philippines we looked for different species of the genus Cardiocondyla that is known for its astonishing morphological and behavioural diversity of male ants," said researcher Sabine Frohschammer from Universitat Regensburg in Germany.
"Beside already known species we also detected a until then undiscovered species in the cleavage of big stones in a shady streambed.
"Due to the darkness of the rainforest and the translucent body parts of the tiny ants they were nearly invisible. Under bright light and a magnifier we detected the nice stripe across the eyes and therefore always referred to these species as `the pirates`," Frohschammer said.
The adaptive significance of the extraordinary pigmentation pattern is still a mystery to scientists.
The poor vision and the fact that these ants mate in the dark exclude one of the most obvious hypotheses that the dark patch serve as a sign for sexual differentiation and thus a cue for recognition during mating.
A possible guess about the function of this bizarre pirate-like colouration pattern is that it serves as a tool to distract and confuse the enemy.
The combination of the dark stripes together with a rather translucent body when living could leave the impression in predators that the anterior and posterior body parts are in fact two separate objects.
The study was published in the journal Zookeys.