- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Snelling, 74, an internationally known entomologist who primarily studied ants, wasps and bees and worked in collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for more than three decades, left behind an unfinished manuscript when he died April 21, 2008 while on an ant expedition in Kenya.
His work included 10 new species of Temnothorax ants, mostly from California but also from Nevada and Baja, California.
Today it is seeing the light of day, thanks to two ant specialists at the University of California, Davis: Marek Borowiec and Matthew Prebus of the UC Department of Entomology and Nematology. They recently published the work, with Snelling listed as a co-author, in ZooKeys and linked each described specimen to the AntWeb database.
Snelling's son, Gordon, gave the draft to Borowiec and Prebus to complete and publish. Both are doctoral candidates in the Phil Ward lab.
The 10 new species of a Temnothorax ants doubles the number of species of this genus in California.
The era of electronic publishing in taxonomy has greatly facilitated the accessibility of specimen data, the entomologists said. ZooKeys has been long spearheaded the wide and rapid dissemination of taxonomic information.
"We include 20 species known from California in our study but at present, there are about 60 species, including those described, of Temnothorax known from North America and more than 350 species worldwide so our study is of somewhat limited scope,” the authors said in a news release. "Nevertheless, we believe that by officially describing these forms and giving a new illustrated key, we are providing a useful resource for myrmecologists working in western North America."
AntWeb is an online ant database that focuses on specimen level data and images linked to specimens. In addition, contributors can submit natural history information and field images that are linked directly to taxonomic names. Distribution maps and field guides are generated automatically. All data in AntWeb are downloadable by users.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) where Snelling worked, houses more than 35 million specimens, some dating back 4.5 billion years. Snelling built up the ant collection there.
Roy Snelling "is one of the most significant figures in modern myrmecology," wrote ant specialist/insect photographer Alex Wild in his Myrmecos blog. Wild holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, where he studied with major professor Phil Ward.
Snelling, born of Cherokee Indian heritage in 1934 in Turlock, was basically a self-taught entomologist. He studied at a junior college in Modesto and later in life, did graduate-level studies at the University of Kansas. Snelling served in the U.S. Army and was an inspector with the California Department of Food and Agriculture before joining NHM.
Wrote Wild: "Roy's prolific career as a curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County produced dozens of studies on the taxonomy of bees, wasps, and especially ants. Among other accomplishments, his works are the primary reference for the honeypot ants of North America, numerous groups of carpenter ants, and the entire Chilean myrmecofauna. Roy was a devoted desert rat, an aficionado of fine Mexican food, and- and I mean this in the very best way- a curmudgeon's curmudgeon."
Borowiec, a fourth-year doctoral student, joined the UC Davis entomology graduate program in 2010. He received his master's degree, with honors, in zoology in 2009 from the University of Wroclaw, Poland. His thesis focused on the taxonomy of Cerapachys sexspinus group.
Prebus, a third-year Ph.D student, received his bachelor of science degree in biology from Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., in 2010 and then joined the Phil Ward lab. His research goals are to investigate when--and where--the hyperdiverse ant genus Temnothorax arose, and how it diversified on a global scale. Additionally, he willl revise the members of the genus from the Neotropical biogeographical region and investigate the relationship among members of the genus on the mainland and the Greater Antilles.