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New “Pirate” Ant Discovered in the Philippines

Picture of a new species of ant, the pirate ant
A new species of ant, the pirate ant, sports eye patches. Photograph courtesy Bernhard Seifert

Image of the 125 Anniversary logo The pirate ant might not be able to make you walk the plank, but dark-colored patches around their eyes certainly make this new species look like they could bully ants off a ship.

Discovered by a team of German scientists while on a trip to the Philippines, Cardiocondyla pirata was found living under a rock—literally. PhD student Sabine Frohschammer  from the University of Regensburg and her colleague Bernhard Seifert from Senckenberg Museum of Natural History Gorlitz were searching for Cardiocondyla ants in a shady streambed when she saw individuals that didn’t look like any other known species.

Researchers found the pirate ant near a stream in the Philippines. lives in this habitat. Photograph courtesy Sabine Frohschammer
Researchers found the pirate ant near a stream in the Philippines. Photograph courtesy Sabine Frohschammer

“Due to the darkness of the rainforest and the translucent body parts of the tiny ants, they were nearly invisible,” Frohschammer said in a press release.

As she looked more closely, however, Frohschammer knew she had found something special. Some of the females she had gathered had unusual coloration around their eyes—dark patches that reminded Frohschammer of the eye patches worn by some pirates.

A search of the research literature revealed that Frohschammer’s initial hunch was correct: Not only was this an entirely new species of ant, the coloration was unique as well. The researchers recently reported their find in the journal ZooKeys.

The dark, eye patch-like pattern on the new ant speices. Photograph courtesy Bernhard Seifert
The dark, eye-patch-like pattern on the new ant species. Photograph courtesy Bernhard Seifert

But unlike Captain Hook, these ants don’t live on a pirate ship. Instead, Frohschammer believes that the ants live their entire lives buried underground in almost complete darkness. Their eyes reflect their lives in the dark, as they contain an abnormally small number of light receptors.

If the pirate ants live in the dark and can’t see very well, this makes it unlikely that the eye patch is used either as a signal during mating or as a way for individuals to recognize other members of their species, Frohschammer noted in the study.

Her current hypothesis is that the eye patch serves to confuse and distract predators. The dark stripe seems to divide the ant’s tiny, translucent head in two, which could make predators think that such a ridiculously small morsel isn’t worth their time. Frohschammer still isn’t sure what, if any, predators might be consuming them.

It wouldn’t be the first time a pirate tried to conceal buried treasure.


  1. Bill Pilgrim
    65 Lakewood Drive, Burpengary East, Qld. 4505, Australia
    August 11, 2013, 11:56 pm

    Another ” Natural Wonder”” of so much beauty and scientific interest. All thinking people must believe that there will be so much more to seek out amongst all the forest land that is being torn apart for a quick profit. Can we somehow stop this loss?

  2. Albritch Adam
    tarlac, philippines
    August 9, 2013, 8:22 am

    Oh.. a new specie!! Our biodiversity is very rich here in the Philippines but due to wrong use and implementations of the laws concerning our environment it is now in danger….

  3. Akeem Adesokan
    August 8, 2013, 2:34 pm

    Wow that was great.imagine some species that has destroyed by pollution,oil spillage etc

  4. Sophia Espanola
    July 7, 2013, 3:48 am

    that’s a weird looking ant but i guess that means that there are some insects we never seen before like this one

  5. d.k
    zamboanga city
    June 13, 2013, 8:33 am

    wow its super amazing to now their a new species of ant that live here in the philippines freaking cool

  6. Ira Gavilan
    June 6, 2013, 8:39 pm

    This is the first magnified photo I’ve seen of an ant – seeing it’s translucent parts and patched-eye is quite amazing!…and discovered in my own country at that 😉

  7. pushparaj
    June 6, 2013, 3:21 pm

    work like ant

  8. jenny
    June 3, 2013, 12:55 am

    The creator has not stopped creating.This is not a new discovery its a new creation.

  9. Mario Antonio G. Lopez
    Las Pinas City, Philippines
    June 2, 2013, 1:08 am

    This new species is one reason that we cannot allow the destruction of our natural heritage. There is so much we do not know and understand about our world and our place in it.

  10. youness ramzi
    June 1, 2013, 7:13 am

    بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم /
    و ما أوتيتم من علم إلا قليل و صدق الله العظيم
    هذا دليل أن الأرض لم تظهر ما تسره من أسرار ؟ و ـاكدوا أن العلم هو ما يوحد تقدم البشرية جمعاء ؟ و كل اكتشاف هو بداية لإكتشاف آخر ؟

  11. Chudamani Akavaram
    May 31, 2013, 9:46 pm

    Such ants and weird creatures like these,though not a God’ s creation are a creation of nature happening throughout time,I believe.

  12. corey
    May 31, 2013, 2:24 pm

    not new, new found.

  13. Daniel Monge
    United States
    May 31, 2013, 12:15 pm

    interesting but absolutely horrible puns.

  14. ian c. martin
    May 31, 2013, 12:05 pm

    Its more fun in the Philippines!!!!!…….love yah motherland…..c”,)nai

  15. rodel fedillaga
    May 31, 2013, 10:36 am


  16. 007
    May 30, 2013, 9:59 pm

    Haha, love the article, and the closing line!

  17. Dee
    United States
    May 30, 2013, 9:16 pm

    “It wouldn’t be the first time a pirate tried to conceal buried treasure.”

    I see what you did there.

  18. Trina Risos
    Cebu, Philippines
    May 30, 2013, 8:52 pm

    Hi Carrie. Where exactly in the Philippines did they discover the species? Thank you.

  19. rommel m. vidal
    May 30, 2013, 8:44 pm

    This ant is pretty cool. I hope i meet them personally..:-p

  20. Mitchell Annand
    May 30, 2013, 4:45 pm

    “Cardiocondyla Favum” even the Latin naming is nicer!

  21. Mitchell Annand
    May 30, 2013, 4:41 pm

    Very interesting discovery! can’t say I’m fond of the name however… I would have called it a Honeycomb Ant because of the appearance of its abdomen. I’m no Entomologist though.

  22. Ana Liza Bersabal
    Manila, Philippines
    May 30, 2013, 11:41 am

    Oh!! Amazing 🙂

  23. Akhil Kapadia
    May 30, 2013, 9:49 am

    Are these the smallest ants in the world? If not, then which ones are?

  24. shadi
    May 30, 2013, 5:17 am

    Is it just me or don’t the colors make these ants so beautiful?