Feelin’ antsy? Researchers announce discovery of brand-new ant species native to Hong Kong

Strumigenys hirsuta. Photo via HKU.
Strumigenys hirsuta. Photo via HKU.

While Hong Kong is typically thought of more as a concrete jungle than an actual jungle, researchers with the University of Hong Kong today proved there’s still more to learn about biodiversity in the SAR with the discovery of three species of ants totally new to science.

This discoveries were made during a five-year sampling process that concluded last year. In addition to the three totally new species, researchers also documented several that were observed in Hong Kong for the first time — including at least one invasive species that could potentially prove to be a nuisance to locals.

“If you believe that all life surrounding you in Hong Kong has been discovered, then you’ll realize that you just need to look a bit closer,” Dr. Benoit Guénard, of HKU’s School of Biological Sciences, was quoted as saying in a release accompanying the announcement.

The three newly discovered species include Strumigenys hirsuta (pictured above) — its name a reference to its hairy appearance — which was found on Hong Kong Island, and whose range researchers believe likely extends to Guangdong as well.

Strumigenys lantaui, meanwhile, is so far thought to live only on Lantau — its namesake — and is characterized by, among other things, its covering of “spatulate hairs.”

Strumigenys lantaui. Photo via HKU.
Strumigenys lantaui. Photo via HKU.

Finally, Strumigenys nathistorisoc — named for the Hong Kong Natural Historical Society, which provided funding for the research — was also found on Lantau. The species was notable for its “highly distinctive mandibles and dentition,” the researchers wrote. (Just look at that dentition!)

Strumigenys nathistorisoc. Photo via HKU.
Strumigenys nathistorisoc. Photo via HKU.

As HKU’s release notes, the three new species measure no more than four millimeters long, but are “astounding predators” of tiny arthropods like mites.

But while everyone loves a new species, not all of the researchers’ discoveries were cause for celebration. Five non-native species were also discovered, including one — Brachymyrmex patagonicus — that is “an urban pest well-known for its ability to enter and establish nests within a wide range of buildings, like hospitals, hotels, schools, and houses.”

The invasive Brachymyrmex patagonicus. Photo via April Nobile/AntWeb.org
The invasive Brachymyrmex patagonicus. Photo via April Nobile/AntWeb.org

“Specimens collected from an urban environment in Hong Kong coupled with recent surveys suggest an early stage in the invasion process,” Guénard wrote in a paper on the find. “In Hong Kong, measures to identify its overall spread and to eradicate this species, which is considered as a major pest, should be quickly implemented.”

The ant, native to the Americas, was collected in Hung Hom, the researchers noted. Its proclivity for colonizing urban areas, they added, raises fears that its proliferation would increase the need for pest management and, more troublingly, boost the use of pesticides.

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