Entomology researchers in Kerala had reason to rejoice after a group of them discovered three new species of ants in the forests of the Western Ghats. In a project by the Travancore History Society’s (TNHS) Ant Research Group (TARG), a team led by Dr Kalesh Sadasivan and Manoj Kripakaran discovered the new species, which belong to genera Proceratium Roger, 1863, Zasphinctus Wheeler, 1918, and Vollenhovia Mayr, 1865.
Initial research suggests that the new proceratium — or rare ant — species found in the Western Ghats are forms of the original species found in Gondwana. This is the first time that ants of the Proceratium and Zasphinctus genera have been reported in India. “There are similar examples of such intriguing evolutionarily distributions of Gondwanan hypogaeic lifeforms between Africa, Malagasy, and the Western Ghats in Kerala,” Dr Kalesh says. The Proceratium species was found in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Idukki, while the Zasphinctus was found in Agashtyamalai’s Ponmudi hills and the Vollenhovia was found both at the Periyar reserve and Agasthyamalai.
Apart from the Proceratium genus, ants under the Zasphinctus genus are also not found in India. While they are found in the African region, the most number of species under this are recorded from the Australasian region (Australia and south west Pacific islands) with one species recorded from Thailand. “Since the epicenter of speciation of Zasphinctus seems to be the Australasian region, the ancestor of this genus might have reached Africa via the Indian plate,” Kalesh added.
Ants under the genus Vollenhovia that were spotted from the Indian region were from the Himalayas, Burma, other parts of the Indo-Malayan region in south-eastern Asia, and the associated islands in the Bay of Bengal. “All the three species are endemic to Western Ghats and are confined to microclimates in tropical evergreen forests of Kerala, hence are good candidates as bioindicators of climate change,” Dr Kalesh said.
In another study by TNHS, a team of researchers Dr Kalesh Sadasivan, Vinayan P Nair and Dr Abraham Samuel have identified a new species of damselfly, which is similar to the dragonfly. The new species was found in the Western Ghats of Peechi Wildlife Sanctuary in Thrissur. The species was first spotted during the A 4-day butterfly survey of the Peechi Wildlife Division, led by the Kerala Forest Department and TNHS in 2021. This new damselfly species has been named the Anamalai reed-tail damselfly.