Photo/IllutrationThe Aphaenogaster gamagumayaa ant species discovered in Nakagusuku, Okinawa Prefecture (Provided by Taku Shimada)

  • Photo/Illustraion

FUKUOKA--An ant species that likely inhabits only caves and feeds on bat guano has been found in Okinawa Prefecture, a discovery described as unusual in the evolution of ants.

The new species, the first of its kind in Japan and the second in the world, was found by researcher Takeru Naka, 40, in August last year in the village of Nakagusuku.

Naka, who lives in Okinawa Prefecture, studied the ant with Munetoshi Maruyama, an associate professor of entomology at the Kyushu University Museum.

The ant, which belongs to the Aphaenogaster genus, has an 8-milimeter-long clear yellowish body. It has been named the Aphaenogaster gamagumayaa.

The finding was published in the online edition of the international zootaxy journal Zootaxa.

The new species has a clear body and long legs and antennae, characteristics unique to ants that live in caverns. As the species was not found in surrounding forests during surveys, Maruyama concluded that “it is extremely likely to be a troglobiont.”

Although there is little food in caves, making it difficult for ants to live there, the species survives on the excrement of bats.

According to Maruyama, several ant species that inhabit caves were discovered, but most have since been confirmed to also live outside caverns. The only troglobiont ant is a species belonging to the Leptogenys confucii genus found in Laos in 2003.

“People rarely think about small creatures like ants, but they are as precious as pandas,” Maruyama said. “I would like people to recognize the richness of nature in Okinawa.”