A novel species has arrived on the scene. Here come the dragon ants.
Supposedly the dragons from the TV series “Game of Thrones” have been reanimated in reality. In the insect world, these dragons have been literally given rebirth as the dragon ants. This novel species has huge and prominent spines. They were found in the tropical rain-forests of Papua New Guinea. Even though they don’t breathe fire (obviously!) the spines on their bodies have made the scientists compare them with the Game of Thrones dragons.
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The experts, Dr. Georg Fischer, Dr. Eli Sarnat, and Prof. Evan Economo from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), employed cutting edge 3D imaging technology to pinpoint the novel species of ants and document several new ant species in two different papers published in PLOS ONE.
Taxonomy is the science of labeling and documenting the new species as they arise. It happens to be the most ancient and basic tasks that is engaged in by biologists. Normally, new species are identified via photos, sketches and verbal narratives.
The scientists utilized X-ray microtomography (a method like the CAT scan) to focus on the ants. This was a more miniature version of the technology which captured images of the small ants. It is a rare instance of such a technology being put to such odd uses.
Once an ant is scanned via this procedure, it becomes a virtual 3D living object that can be examined and dissected any way the scientists like to.
For researchers who are working in remote regions, they can download a picture of the ant and later on have it undergo comparisons with the X-ray microtomography images stored in their computers.
They don’t need to travel all the way back to Europe or America to do the comparison. This tool is thus very handy indeed. In fact, it is almost like having the living ant right in front of you. You can do what you want vicariously through the medium of a computer.
3D imaging along with more conventional methods were applied by the scientists to scan two new species of ants. One of these was from Papua New Guinea and the other one was from Fiji.
Later on 3D galleries were made by the researchers for this specific purpose. They also peered into the spines of the dragon ants to see how they functioned.
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While the obvious function is as a protective device against predators, the spines also contain strong muscles. They thus serve as a padding and reinforcing device that make the ants more tougher in their makeup.