Somewhere in Bolivia, two men decided to steal some motorcycles. They were excited about their loot, until they ended up being tied to a tree with venomous Pseudomyrmex triplarinus ants. This, as reported via the Associated Press in The Guardian and The Washington Post, was the near-fatal penalty suffered by these two miscreants for their ill-advised behavior. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only tragedy in this story.
In both newspapers, the portrayal of the key players – the insects – is horribly botched. The Guardian refers to the “venom of fire ants” in the caption of what looks to me to be a beetle (certainly not an ant), and fails to follow basic conventions like capitalizing the name of the genus “Pseudomyrmex” and italicizing the entire scientific name. The Post mercifully spares us a photo, but sticks “fire ants” in the title of its article that contains the same egregious errors as the one in The Guardian (having essentially identical AP-sourced content).
Pseudomyrmex triplarinus is completely different from fire ants. Completely different. Two-second Google search different. So is the difference between an “ant” and a “beetle”. And failing to properly capitalize and italicize the scientific name betrays the scientific illiteracy of the writer. But, despite these errors, the intriguing nature of the story makes it worth a read.