New ant species has been discovered in New Guinea and they have dragon-like spines.
Scientists have discovered two new species of ants in the tropical rainforests of New Guinea. These ants have enormous heads and spikes on their bodies that remind us of dragons from the popular series “Games of Thrones.” In fact, they have been named after two dragons from this epic series, adapted from the novel written by George R.R. Martine.
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Ant species, Pheidole viserion and Pheidole drogon, belong to genus Pheidole which is one of the most diverse ant genus and comprises more than 1000 ant species widely distributed across the globe.
The newfound ant species have large, distinctive reptiles-like spines, which is a feature rarely found in ants and has been identified using phylognetic analysis alongside cutting edge 3D imaging technology known as micro-CT.
“This is one of the first studies in ant taxonomy to use micro-CT,” said co-author Evan Economo from Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). “While this method is gaining popularity in different scientific fields, it is rare to use it in this way.”
Not only did the technology lead to the identification of the spiny characteristic of the ants, but also gave clues on the function of the spines. Previously, researchers assumed that ants use their spine structure as a defense mechanism but new analysis suggests that these spines might help ants to support their massive heads.
“Once you open up the rotational 3D PDF and see these ants’ extraordinary spines or “inordinate spinescence” as we phrase in the study, you can’t help but ask why on earth these structures evolved,” said lead author Eli Sarnat. “The most obvious answer is defense, but the internal morphology revealed by this new micro-CT scanning technology suggests that the answer might also have something to do with muscle mechanics and powering the huge heads of the soldier ants.”
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But the findings are far from conclusive and further researches are needed to identify the exact purpose of the spiny appearance in ants.