SALT LAKE CITY — It was a warm August evening in 2018 when Jack Longino spotted something unusual in his backyard.
“I noticed right there these four tiny little ants that I knew just did not belong here,” Longino said.
As a biology professor at the University of Utah and an entomologist, Longino is trained to spot new species. He said just by looking at these ants he knew they were the first of their kind in the state.
“The head has a very triangular look to it, where it has a very elongated front and then the jaws kind of continue to be elongated,” he said.
Longino collected nearly 70 of the ants, brought them back to the lab, studied them and gave them a name.
“I named this new species Strumigenys ananeotes,” Longino said. “Ananeotes which means newly emerged.”
The ants are relatives of one found in more moist climates but Longino credited trees planted in the valley with helping these species survive Utah’s desert climate.
“Perhaps this is a case were native species, instead of being harmed by human intervention, is actually benefitting from creating more of its habitat,” he said.
His work was just published in the Western North American Naturalist, making it official.
He hopes his story excites others to get out there and explore.
“Get a flashlight and go look closely and they might find some of these too,” he said.