Sunday, December 5

The doctor who has discovered a new ant in Alicante


Loaded with small tubes of alcohol, the utensil that amateurs and scholars use to keep the ants on their outings and observe them later, Arcos went with his family in the direction of the Alicante peak, 1,558 meters above sea level. One more excursion in which this young man, then still an adolescent, caught several specimens of these insects.

It was something he usually did and then, when he got home and looked at them carefully with the magnifying glass, he could classify them according to species. But Aitana’s did not know how to identify them. «When I saw them, I did not know how to name them. He was not very expert, so I asked them a question and I thought I would look at them again later ”, explains this young doctor who has just started his residency in Barcelona, ​​where he specializes as a pathologist.

As time went by, he took them out of the drawer, looked at them again, and still failed to classify them. Until one day he said: “Let’s see if this is a new thing …”. He then chose to consult with various people from the world of myrmecology, the science that studies ants. “None of them knew they had seen them before,” adds Arcos.

He had only three copies, so he needed to get a larger number with the objective of being able to start a studySo in 2015 he returned to the mountains to find more workers. There he located a colony with which he managed to increase the sample, and that was when he began to write.

Specimens of Temnothorax estel, the species of ant discovered in the Sierra de Aitana. | JAVIER ARCOS


“It takes a long time to describe a species,” says the young man. The process has a point that Arcos describes as “very critical”, since it must be shown that what you are dealing with is not something that someone has already found before. That is, to prove that it is something new. “It’s difficult because you have to find rare species that were discovered many years ago,” he says. Then, you have to go discarding and, if there are similarities, you have to go to the place where they were seen, find them, take a sample and discard. “I had to go to many places on the peninsula to see species that looked like mine,” he says.

“Once I had all the doubts on the table, I was able to say: nothing of what there is is what I am studying,” he adds about a process that requires data such as the length of the eye or the size of the femur of the rear leg of a whopping of 50 specimens of each species. “You are about two hours per worker taking measurements,” he says.

The spice minted as Temnothorax estel has very interesting characteristics. Unlike other ants that live in very populous groups, these are found in the high mountains and make very small colonies, with a maximum of 150 individuals, something that contrasts with the thousands of ants that can form colonies in other species.

In addition, explains the Alicante, they have another peculiarity: “the workers are very small and have lost the ability to excavate.” For this reason they take advantage of cracks or other spaces in the earth that are already open.

On one of his trips to Spain, Arcos found other workers of this species. It was in Jaén. These two towns now host the result of the passion of this doctor, with a not too common hobby. «People are surprised, although within the rare hobbies in this there are quite a few people. Now, for example, there has been a boom with the breeding of ants, ”says Arcos, who will not stop researching these insects.

Climate change could kill these specimens

Ants are not spared from climate change. This new species is found in the high mountains and, as is already the case with a species from the Canary Islands, which is estimated to have nowhere to live in 100 years, these insects could be affected. «They are found in Alicante and Jaén from 1,000 to 1,200 meters. It is probable that climate change may have an effect on this species, that they are left without habitat to live, ”explains Javier Arcos, author of the scientific article that describes Temnothorax estel.


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