Palawan’s new ant species named after former President Cory Aquino

In honor of the late former Philippine President, a new ant species that was discovered in the forests of Palawan Island last year were named after President Corazon "Cory" Aquino. 

In an article published in India-based journal HALTERES, the two ant specialists, David Emmanuel M. General and Perry Archival C. Buenavente of the UPLB Museum of Natural History and Philipine National Museum,  described Romblonella coryae sp. n. from the primary lowland rainforest of one of Palawan's highest peaks, Cleopatra's Needle. 

The researchers recently announced the species’ formal description which is fitting that a genus named after a Philippine island has a species named after a modern Filipino hero. 

Palawan citizens have been grateful to the late President for the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan Act of 1992 according to General. The Plan has served as the framework of Palawan's government agencies in formulating plans, programs and projects affecting the province's environment and natural resources.

General and Buenavente got the chance to discover the ants while volunteering for the Centre for Sustainability and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development which organized a biodiversity survey of Cleopatra's Needle in January 2014. 

They were settled at camp when they saw the strikingly colored worker ants, scurrying on the tarpaulin sheets protecting their tents. They also collected specimens along the trail from the road to their camp and from sifted leaf litter. 

Romblonella ants’ dominant colors are dark brown, dark orange and yellow. It is characterized by a robust, hard and compact body, stout propodeal spines, massive petiole and postpetiole, and gaster formed largely by the first tergite.

According to General and Buenavente, R. coryae is only the second species of Romblonella from the Philippines which the first species, R. opaca, are from Romblon. "Finding these ants in Cleopatra's Needle speaks much of the reserve's rich but threatened biodiversity, and hence, the need to fully enforce protection measures in the reserve," General stated.

The last species of Romblonella, R. heatwolei was discovered 24 years ago and it already have nine valid species of Romblonella in the world and two of them are in the country. Romblonella ants are found on islands ranging from the Philippines to Fiji and Australia each described species has a very limited range, rarely collected and known from only a few collections.

Having only been seen in five island locations in the Philippines and have not been observed anywhere in the main lands of Luzon and Mindanao which is very rare to find, the discovery of Romblonella ants is a significant contribution to the current efforts to declare the Cleopatra's Needle Forest Reserve as a Critical Habitat according to the researchers.

The holotype worker has been deposited at the National Museum of the Philippines while five paratypes were distributed to the UPLB Museum of Natural History and other natural history museums in the USA, Australia, Austria, and the UK.

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Sunday, 23 February 2020
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