When recent cruise ship visitor James Wetterer landed in the Cayman Islands on holiday he did not do the things that typical cruise ship passengers do during their time here.
Mr. Wetterer did not spend his time here sunbathing on Seven Mile Beach, noshing on rum cakes in George Town or taking a trip out to world-famous Stingray City. Rather than these more leisurely pursuits, the good professor (of Florida’s Atlantic University) instead ventured to the nearest grove of red mangroves to conduct a bit of “holiday research”wherein he discovered a unique and previously unknown species of ant.
Professor Wetterer told thetale of his recent discovery in the most recent edition of Flicker. Flicker is a bi-monthly magazine produced by the Terrestrial Research Unit of the Department of Environment. The professor had been previouslyfocusing his research on insects living in dead hollow twigs in the mangrove areas of Florida and had discovered that rare ant species were often found in the red mangroves because of their unique, one of a kind habitat. These species are often completely isolated by water from dryer lands.
During the professor’s Cayman Islandsberth he collected a few specimens from the mangroves around Camana Bay and when he opened up the twigs he found an ant species never previously known before. The ants were very similar to two Tapinoma species found throughout the greater Caribbean region. This ant’s body coloration, though, was different enough for Professor Wetterer to think it could be a completely new species. To confirm this he sent his “Cayman Ant” sample to Roberto Guerrero at the Universidad del Magdalena in the South American nation of Colombia. Mr. Guerrero is an expert of the ant genus Tapinoma and he confirmed that the ant was, in fact, a new species! This is the only ant species known to be totally native to the Cayman Islands and the new species will soon be classified after Mr. Guerrero undertakes a genetic analysis of the new find.
Professor Wetterer stated that he found the new ant species at two locations and collected several worker ants and eleven males. He says he has yet to find a queen ant. He also informed us that he plans on coming back to Cayman soon to find and record an example of the elusive queen ant.
The professor’s discovery sheds light on the nation’s ecological need to preserve the mangroves. While conducting his work he found the samples of dead mangroves at Camana Bay on land being cleared for new development.The professor’s work highlights the fact that oftentimes a nation’s development and growth can come at the expense of the area’s native flora and fauna.