S'pore now the city with highest ant diversity in the world after 121 new species recorded

409 ant species have been recorded locally.

Zi Shan Kow | July 19, 2022, 12:08 PM

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates: https://t.me/mothershipsg

Singapore was recently found to have more ant species than any other city in the world.

An updated checklist of our local ant species revealed that Singapore is home to a total of 409 species of ants, 121 of which are new records.

34 new endemic ant species

Published on Jul. 14, the latest study was conducted by researchers from National University of Singapore (NUS), Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) and institutes in Japan and Hong Kong.

The scientists looked at specimens found in the museum's Zoological Reference Collection (ZRC) and examined thousands of records from digital repertories and relevant literature that dated as far back as the late 1800s, according to a press release by LKCNHM.

The 152-page paper revealed that an additional 121 ant species were recorded here.

This means that these ant species may have been found in other countries but their presences are recorded in Singapore for the first time.

This is an update to the scientific checklist of ant species in Singapore, which was published more than a century ago in 1916, by German schoolmaster and entomologist Hugo Viehmeyer.

34 of these new species are endemic to Singapore, which means they can only be found here.

The scientists were surprised that most of the ant species are native to the region, and only 13 species are identified to be exotic.

Many of the ants species are also not found only in protected forests and nature reserves but in degraded forest fragments peppered throughout the local urban matrix.

Image by Maimon Hussin, LKCNHM.

Highest recorded ant diversity in the world

With the updated checklist, the researchers found that Singapore can be deemed the city with the highest recorded ant diversity in the world.

“It really is a monumental piece of work and will set the foundation of ant-related research in Singapore for the next 100 years,” said Evan Economo, a professor from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and a co-author of the paper.

Despite this, the researchers say that the 409 number is still an underestimate of the actual ant diversity in Singapore, as more species still await discovery.

Many ants that could not be confidently identified may be new to science, and some ants were found in inaccessible places.

The Gesomyrmex species, for example, nests in tree canopies and was only first discovered on the crown of a large tree when it fell.

Gesomyrmex. Image by Maimon Hussin, LKCNHM.

The study also highlighted that Singapore had incredible ant diversity despite being small and urbanised, with less than one per cent of its original forests remaining.

“Our findings clearly show that every little bit of forest counts, even a tiny patch of vegetation can be a potential enclave for biodiversity. We just need to look more closely,” said Wendy Wang, entomology curator and researcher at LKCNHM and lead author of the study.

The researchers also wrote that the main threat faced by our local ant diversity is the continued destruction of forest habitats and encroaching local urban developments.

More new species found in Singapore

Editor's note on Jul. 21, 2022: The article has been updated for clarity. 

Top images via Pexels and Maimon Hussin, LKCNHM.