There are a lot of silly ways you can name a new species — maybe after a boat, or the US President, or the sound you made when you found it. But this little ant probably received one of the most badarse names possible: Tyrannomyrmex rex, T. rex for short.
Gordon Yong, Insect Diversity Lab, National University of Singapore
Singaporean scientists recently spotted a colony of these ants for the first time in the wild. But despite their new name, the ants’ shy nature makes them decidedly un-T. rex like.
“I… find their shy nature ironic and amusing,” study author Mark Wong from the National Parks Board at the Singapore Botanic Gardens told Gizmodo in an email. “Tyrannomyrmex would actually translate into “tyrant ant” (Tyranno is Latin for “tyrant”; myrmex is Greek for “ant”), but it soon became clear these ants aren’t in any way tyrants, in fact quite the opposite if you look at how they “freeze up” when other organisms come close, and quickly run away after.”
The researchers found the colony of about 30 little T.rex in March 2016, in a Singaporean forest under a leaf. The colony’s location immediately shattered previous assumptions about the ants, since scientists originally thought the T. rex would only appear in “pristine or undisturbed forests”. They found these ants in a military training area near some rubbish.
But the ants surprised Wong in a more significant way. Most ants groom themselves with an antiseptic secretion so they don’t get the rest of their colony sick. These shy crawlers, however, do not, despite the fact they are presumably living in environments full of harmful bacteria. “So Tyrannomyrmex hygiene remains a little mystery,” said Wong.
The ants probably aren’t as rare as scientists think. They live in small colonies in habitats scientists don’t often sample, they’re probably nocturnal, and they’re picky eaters. All of those factors combined means they have probably just been really good at eluding our detection.
So remember, just because you’re a human doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about the world. There could be a whole colony of rare ants sitting beneath a food wrapper you tossed on the floor.