New species of ant found near Camana Bay

Most people coming off cruise ships in Grand Cayman go to the beach or visit Stingray City. James Wetterer visited in April and found a new species of ant.

Mr. Wetterer, a zoologist at Florida Atlantic University, makes a habit of looking for ants when he travels. He found the new species of Tampinoma ant in twigs he collected from the red mangroves near Camana Bay while his daughter and mother were touring the history museum on the waterfront.

This was Mr. Wetterer’s third Caribbean cruise, he said by phone Tuesday. “It is a very economical way” to look for ants across Caribbean islands, he said. He collects samples and then brings them back on the cruise ship to go through the sticks and twigs to see what he can find.

“While we are moving from one area to the next, I can sort through my ants,” he said. He preserves them in vials of alcohol.

He said he contacted the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, which he has worked with before, to get a permit to spend a few hours collecting samples while he was on island.

Mr. Wetterer’s research in the U.S. focusses on ants and he recently published a paper on ants found in the mangroves in Florida that are very similar to the ones he found in Cayman. Working with his students, he found several rare ant species that it turned out, were very common in red mangroves.

When he got off the cruise ship in George Town, Mr. Wetterer walked to Camana Bay and around the back where he had identified mangroves from a Google map.

He found the new species of Tampinoma ant in twigs he collected from the red mangroves near Camana Bay while his daughter and mother were touring the history museum on the waterfront.

Writing in the latest issue of the DOE newsletter “Flicker,” Mr. Wetterer explained: “When I cut open the twigs from Camana Bay, I found an ant that I had never seen before. Although it looked similar to two Tapinoma species known from throughout the Caribbean, its coloration was different from either.”

The ants looked similar, but instead of a completely pale body, they had a pale head and thorax and a dark abdomen. He said he sent the species to his collaborator on several projects, Roberto Guerrero at the Universidad del Magdalena in Colombia, an expert in this type of ant.

Mr. Guerrero plans to test its DNA, he said. Mr. Wetterer said this will be the first ant that is native to the Cayman Islands.

He plans to be back down in Cayman with another cruise in December with hopes to collect more ants. He said he found males and worker ants on his last trip. This time, he said, “I really want to get the queens.”

On his December trip, he plans to rent a car so he can go back to Camana Bay and then collect samples from other mangrove areas on the island. He said he expects the ants will be found in other mangroves around the island and not just in the area facing the North Sound behind Camana Bay.

His research into ants has taken him to 40 islands in the Caribbean, including Cayman, over the course of several years. But, he explained, he had not thought to look in mangroves at that point.

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