For many, ants may be a nuisance that take over your crumb-filled desk overnight like descendants of Genghis Khan, but for one scientist, ants are super-organisms around which his whole life revolves.
Meet Dr Himender Bharti from the Ant Systematics and Molecular Biology Lab at the Department of Zoology and Environmental Sciences, Punjabi University, Patiala, who has, over the course of his career developed a repository of 1,000s of ants.
Bharati is responsible for discovering more than 75 new species of ants from India and four new species from Southeast Asia.
To Dr Bharti’s surprise, a new species of ants is being named after him, called the Leptogenys bhartii.
When Bharti was peer-reviewing a manuscript describing a new ant species discovered by a team at the Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture, Srinagar, he was surprised to see the new species had his name on it.
“This species is named in honour of Dr Himender Bharti for his outstanding contribution to the Indian ants,” Dr Shahid Ali Akbar told The Hindu, who was the senior author of the manuscript published in the Biodiversity Data Journal.
The 11-12 mm ant was found at the southern foothills of Pir Panjal Himalayas in Jammu and Kashmir by Dr Shahid’s team.
“They never told me anything, not even when they met me during a conference recently. But when they submitted the manuscript, it came to me for reviewing. I was pleasantly surprised to see the ant species named after me, but I told the editor that it would (be) unethical on my part to review it,” Dr Bharti told the publication.
Dr Himender Bharti’s humility seems just as enormous as the work he has done. With research spanning about ants from their lifestyle, ecology, evolution to even the role they play in the conservation of the forests, Dr Bharti is leading the field of study of ants– myrmecology.
The scientist has completed over seven major research projects with three ongoing and has over 100 publications in which he was involved.
He also published a checklist of ants in India, categorised by the species most observed in each state.
Dr Bharti is set to conserve ants and their ecology, as in an interview with India’s Endangered, he says how ant conservation is often looked down upon here in India even though they play a major role in the ecosystem.
As a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) group for the conservation of Asian ants, Dr Bharti has been working to categorise ant as endangered, threatened or vulnerable. “The IUCN criteria for redlisting is inapplicable for invertebrates, so we are trying to address this,” shared Dr Bharti.
Bharti’s honour of having a species of ant named after him is only a small recognition of the mammoth tasks he has done. He truly is the Ant-Man of India!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)