Discoveries can come in the most unexpected of places. Case in point: Biologists have recently discovered and described a new species of ant that they found in the vomit of a frog.
Researchers from the University of Rochester were studying the feeding ecology of the little devil poison frog (Oophaga sylvatica) that lives in the elevated rainforests of northwestern Ecuador. Their diet is particularly interesting for scientists since poison frogs acquire alkaloids in their skin toxins from the prey they eat. They found that between 40 and 86 percent of the frogs’ diet was made up of ants, including 44 different genera.
But among the 300 devil frogs they studied, one individual's stomach revealed more than simply their last meal – it was also shown to contain an unknown species of ant.
“Sometimes people think that our world is very well explored," lead author Christian Rabeling told National Geographic. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
The Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri specimen discovered in the frog vomit by the researchers. Rabeling C, Sosa-Calvo J, O'Connell LA, Coloma LA, Fernández F (2016)
Named Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri after the renowned evolutionary biologist and ant lover Bert Hölldobler, the worker ant is just under 4 millimeters (0.15 inches) long. Other than it being a favorite meal of the little devil poison frog, not much else is known about the species as this is the only known individual.
But who knows, since frogs are much better equipped to find new species of ants than humans, biologists could be using this method to find new species again in the future.
The study concluded that “the study of vertebrate stomach contents is not only a way of studying the trophic ecology of vertebrates themselves, but also an interesting source of cryptic and new arthropod species, including ants.”
The full study can be found in the open-access journal ZooKeys.