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Cryptic Diversity in Colombian Edible Leaf-Cutting Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)
- Kooij, Pepijn W., Dentinger, Bryn M., Donoso, David A., Shik, Jonathan Z., Gaya, Ester
- Insects 2018 v.9 no.4
- Atta colombica, Atta mexicana, Atta sexdens, Atta texana, DNA, DNA barcoding, ant colonies, conservation status, cytochrome-c oxidase, ecosystems, leaf-cutting ants, nutritive value, paraphyly, pests, Colombia, Panama
- Leaf-cutting ants are often considered agricultural pests, but they can also benefit local people and serve important roles in ecosystems. Throughout their distribution, winged reproductive queens of leaf-cutting ants in the genus Atta Fabricius, 1804 are consumed as a protein-rich food source and sometimes used for medical purposes. Little is known, however, about the species identity of collected ants and the accuracy of identification when ants are sold, ambiguities that may impact the conservation status of Atta species as well as the nutritional value that they provide to consumers. Here, 21 samples of fried ants bought in San Gil, Colombia, were identified to species level using Cytochrome Oxidase I (COI) barcoding sequences. DNA was extracted from these fried samples using standard Chelex extraction methods, followed by phylogenetic analyses with an additional 52 new sequences from wild ant colonies collected in Panama and 251 publicly available sequences. Most analysed samples corresponded to Atta laevigata (Smith, 1858), even though one sample was identified as Atta colombica Guérin-Méneville, 1844 and another one formed a distinct branch on its own, more closely related to Atta texana (Buckley, 1860) and Atta mexicana (Smith, 1858). Analyses further confirm paraphyly within Atta sexdens (Linnaeus, 1758) and A. laevigata clades. Further research is needed to assess the nutritional value of the different species.