People often say that what you are looking for is usually right in front of your face. Researchers from the George Washington University in the US faced the same predicament when they discovered an ant species, Cephalotes specularis, hiding in plain sight.
Mirror turtle ants are the first known ant species to use visual mimicry to parasitise another ant species.
Cephalotes specularis can enter the territory of C. ampla, another species of ants and dodge the host ants by not letting the latter detect their scent.
By mimicking C. ampla, this new species can access their food and follow their foraging trails to food sources. Literally, they can steal food from an enemy.
“I did a true double take when I first saw this new species,” said Scott Powell, an assistant professor of biology at the George Washington University, who discovered the species.
“As I turned away, after seeing what appeared to be large numbers of host foragers, it registered that a couple of the ants I had just laid eyes on were not quite like the others. Turning back around, I managed to re-find the few peculiar ants in the masses of host ants, and everything followed from there,” added Powell.
Additional research conducted after the initial discovery revealed that 89 percent of host territories were parasitised.
Powell calls the discovery one of his most exciting finds and sees this as an opportunity to learn more about the evolution of parasitism.
The findings were published in The American Naturalist.