Finding new species may call to mind images of scientists tracking mysterious footprints in the mud or cutting paths through the dense jungle.
But sometimes, a discovery is as easy as getting a frog to open its mouth and say, “Ah.”
Such is the case for Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri, a new tropical ant species found in the belly of a diablito, or little devil frog (Oophaga sylvatica), in Ecuador.
The diablito, a kind of bright orange poison frog, is known for its love of ants, says Christian Rabeling, a myrmecologist at the University of Rochester, New York. The new ant species is named after Bert Hölldobler, a German evolutionary biologist and ant expert, for his 80th birthday.
Because ant-eating frogs go hunting for bugs in tiny and hard-to-access places, scientists use them as a tool to go where they can’t go. By capturing a wild frog and flushing their stomachs, the amphibians vomit whatever is in their bellies—revealing potential treasures, like the new ant.
“Sometimes people think that our world is very well explored. Nothing could be farther from the truth,” says Rabeling, who led a new study on the ant, published September 19 by the journal ZooKeys.
Because the only known specimen of L. hoelldobleri is a dead one from a frog's stomach, scientists know almost nothing about it.
A glimpse through a high-powered stereomicroscope at that ill-fated ant, however, has offered a few clues. (See "Watch: Ants Use Giant Jaws to Catapult Out of Death Trap.")
“The shape of the mandibles reminds me of forceps,” says Rabeling. This may mean that the ant, which is less than a quarter of an inch long, uses its mouthparts to pry even smaller prey animals, such as termites, out of tight crevices. “But I am just speculating,” he admits.
If the scientists could find living L. hoelldobleri in the Ecuadoran rain forest, the team they could submit the little guys to a “cafeteria test," which means offering an animal multiple prey items to see what it prefers. (See "Surprising Ant 'Mixing Bowl' Found in Manhattan.")
“The difficulty is finding the ants!” says Rabeling.
The little devil frog, obviously, has figured out how to locate them—and for good reason.
Poison frogs get their namesake chemical defenses from alkaloids found in the ants and other critters they consume, says Jonathan Kolby, a National Geographic grantee and director of the Honduras Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Center.
"Physiologists regard ants as mini chemical factories," adds Rabeling. The insects likely use the chemicals as signals to communicate with other ants in their complex societies.
As for where the ants get their alkaloids, Kolby says some species may acquire it from the plants they eat. But what role, if any, L. hoelldobleri may play in the poison game is anyone’s guess.
Belly of the Beast
Because many amphibians are endangered—the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists O. sylvatica as near threatened—any research with wild frogs must be done carefully, and only by trained experts, Rabeling notes. (Read more about why amphibians are vanishing.)
To flush the stomach, scientists insert a soft tube into the amphibian’s mouth and gently fill it with water, prompting whatever the frog has eaten recently to flow out of its mouth and onto a tray. The frog can then be safely returned to its natural habitat.
This is not the first time a new species has been found inside another animal’s stomach, by the way. Kolby points to the example of Dunn’s earth snake (Geophis dunni), which was found in the stomach of a coral snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus) in Nicaragua in 1932.
Furthermore, it seems L. hoelldobleri had some company in the little devil frog’s stomach. The research project that first identified the new ant also found several other as-of-yet undescribed insects.
It seems the little devil’s frog's belly might be the gift that keeps on giving.
By Jason Bittel
How do I get rid of ants?
Although ants generally don’t cause harm to people — they don’t carry disease, like some other pests — an infestation can be a major nuisance.
“Ants can be extremely persistent creatures, seemingly coming from nowhere and can be difficult to entirely get rid of,” says Kelly Garvin of Greenix Pest Control in Dublin, Ohio.
Fortunately, DIY and professional pest removal options are available.
REASONS FOR ANT INFESTATION
Ants typically invade your home for one reason: food. Most feed on sugary or greasy items.
Sugar ants — also called odorous house ants — are one of the most common ant invaders and among the first pests to show up in the spring. They’re about one-eighth of an inch or smaller and are attracted to food sources.
The common pavement ant, which is brown to black and about 1/10th of an inch long, will set up colonies near driveways or patios and then send out scouts to search for food in your home. They eat meat, grease, seeds, dead or live insects, and can sting and bite if disturbed.
Argentine Ants — about 4 to 4.5 mm long ONE size. Usually come into your house for food. Loves protein and fat, often found in your dishwasher or pantry.
Coastal Brown Ants- two sizes. Dark brown, loves protein often found in dishwasher. Two sizes one has a BIG head.
Knowing what type of ant you’re dealing with can help you prevent or combat an infestation.
KEEPING ANTS OUT
The first step to prevent an ant infestation: clean house. If you see scout ants in your home, kill them immediately. Make sure you don’t leave any food out and keep all kitchen surfaces clean.
If you continue to see ants, make sure you’ve closed off possible entry points, including sealing small cracks in your walls or under windows. Start by caulking potential entry points, such as window casings.
Next, you can lay down barriers like salt or talc under doors to turn ants away, or apply scents such as vinegar, peppermint oil or cinnamon. Bear in mind, however, that anything you put down will also be of interest to pets and children, so be careful what you use.
DIY METHODS FOR ANT REMOVAL
If ant explorers have morphed into a full-on colony, then you need a plan.
Start with soap and water. This will not only kill chemical trails, but any ants it touches. Add citrus to the water to increase its effectiveness.
You can also purchase pest sprays and baited ant traps from local grocery and hardware stores. These use a mixture of sugars and ant poison, such as boric acid to attract, trap and kill ants. Proceed with caution when using poison.
Bear in mind, too, that these traps won’t work on protein-feeders like Coastal Brown or Argentine Ants, since the sweetness won’t interest them.
In addition to trapping ants inside, you can also spray around the exterior of the home where the house meets the pavement or ground to prevent more ants from infiltrating, says David Anderson of Eastside Exterminators in Woodinville, Wash.
Garvin recommends spraying problem areas with a mixture of Windex, vinegar and water. She says spreading Diatomaceous Earth in carpeted areas around the bathroom is a safe and natural way to kill ants because it’s a food source.
“The Windex or vinegar is really a quick fix and not really that effective, but it will remove the immediate ants and wipe away their pheromone scent they use to follow trails,” Garvin says.
Dan Miles, owner of Total Exterminating in Indianapolis, suggests spraying all cracks around the baseboards and the base of the toilet if the infestation is in the bathroom.
HIRE A PEST CONTROL PROFESSIONAL
Large-scale infestations require assistance from a pest control professional.
Pros address ant problems by locating the colony itself; typically this starts by laying bait traps, which contain poisoned food taken back to the nest. Once found, exterminators can use a variety of techniques including chemical sprays to totally eliminate the ants in your home.
Modified from Tom Moor Article