Sky Stephens

“In 2004 I started my Northern Arizona University doctorate research in West Africa. One of the components of the work was using ants as indicators of land use, forest type, and as general measures of biodiversity. I was familiar with ant taxonomy after working with ants in Arizona during my master’s program. I’m a self-professed ant geek. The diversity of ants I was collecting in Africa was at least tenfold more than the diversity of ants in Arizona, with more morphospecies and genera than I had seen. While I was collecting the few and generally very old taxonomic works on African ants, I came across the work of Dr. Brian Taylor. He was working on a compilation of ant taxonomy keys for African. I corresponded with him and was able to get beta versions of the key, which are now available on the internet for use in Africa. We kept in touch, and I often sent him specimens of ants or digital photos of ants. In summer 2007, when returning to Arizona from Ghana, I spent ten days working with Dr. Taylor at the Natural History Museum in Oxford improving my ant taxonomy skills. I should mention that he’s a charming chap, as they’d say in England, and we enjoyed several local pubs while talking ants.

“Fast-forward to February 2010. I came in to work one morning and found this message in my inbox:

The long time lag for the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) consideration of the inevitable recognition of the Web as a true form of publican and on-going developments in ant taxonomy led me to give formal names and a set date to the one new genus and 34 new species that I believe to be sound and have posted on my Ants of Africa website (www.antbase.org). A number of you will find I have given new species your name in appreciation of your efforts in collecting and sending specimens to me to try to identify. If you object in any way to this please let me know. With Best Regards, Brian Taylor

“I looked at the link, and under the list of new species in 2010 there was a Pheidole stephensi. When I clicked on the link, there it was—named in recognition of me! I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so ridiculously flattered. I did the happy entomologist dance in my office. The irony of this story is that the Pheidole genus is one of my least favorites. They’re a great group of ants, but the taxonomy is a complete bear. So, Pheidole stephensi might not be the most impressive ant on the block, with no crazy spines or stylish hairs, but it does have a strong median tooth and ‘Appears to be completely unique in having the frontal carinac excavated so as to expose the base of the scape and the torus, also in having quite distinct antennal scrobes,’ All of that was complete ant geek speak.”

For pictures of the specimen she collected and other information on the ant you can see it here!