A Frog Vomited Up a New Ant Species

September 28, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

ant species
Newly discovered ant, Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri
Photo credit: Rabeling et al., 2016.

The stomach contents of a poisonous frog yielded an exciting discovery.

Sometimes, scientific discoveries can be made in the most unexpected places. Such is the case for a team of scientists in Ecuador, who discovered a new species of ant in the vomit of a little devil frog (Oophaga sylvatica), according to an article published in ZooKeys.

Because only a single, dead specimen of the ant — called Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri — has been found, scientists still have little information about it. The researchers speculate that the ant may use its long mouth to pry its even tinier prey out of crevices.

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Discovering new insect species in the tropical rainforest is an immense challenge for scientists, but much easier for frogs, who are constantly consuming ants. In fact, poison frogs obtain their chemical defenses from alkaloids present in the insects they eat.

For this reason, scientists often look to frogs — and specifically the contents of their stomachs — to see what interesting species might be lurking.

National Geographic notes that research with frogs must be conducted carefully, keeping in mind that many species are endangered. To examine stomach contents, scientists will place a tube in the frog’s mouth and fill it with water, causing the animal to vomit. The frog is then returned to its habitat to continue on its insect hunt.

In this case, the devil frog vomit that produced the new ant species also contained other as-of-yet unidentified insects.

“Sometimes people think that our world is very well explored,” remarks study lead author Christian Rabeling of the University of Rochester. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

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