Scientists have found a fossil of a type of ant called “warrior ant” dating back to the Eocene era (about 35 million years ago), and it is the oldest fossil ever found for this species.
The “warrior ant” is spread all over the world except for Russia and Europe, and it is a dangerous species that attacks other insects in ways similar to regular armies, according to what was stated in the scientific paper published in the journal “Biological liters“.
It is also one of the widespread and predatory ants, and lives in huge colonies of more than 20 million ants. It is one of the largest species of ants known, with a length of more than 5 centimeters.
The rare fossil discovery showed that these insects once invaded the land of Europe that is absent today, as this specimen is the second species of warrior ant that has been described from fossils, and it is the first to come from the continent of Europe.
At the time the fossil was formed, Europe was much hotter and wetter than it is today and may have provided an ideal habitat for this ancient ant species. After that, the continent was subjected to several cooling cycles over tens of millions of years that contributed to making it inhospitable to these tropical insect species.
private connection method
The researchers say that this type of ant is completely blind, and may have been using “chemical communication” to stay coordinated with each other to eliminate large prey.
Chemical communications are a type of chemical signals exchanged between living organisms, and insects use a kind of pheromones in these communications, which are scents that ants release to communicate with each other.
Based on X-ray and tomography analysis of the fossils, the team collected New Jersey Institute of Technology Morphological and phylogenetic data confirming that the newly discovered ant is a close relative of the eyeless species of military ant present in Africa and South Asia.
Today, there are about 270 species of warrior ants living in the eastern hemisphere, and about 150 species across North and South America.
The new fossil sheds light on a previously unknown subspecies of military ants that could have been present across Europe but went extinct within the past 50 million years.
The team’s analysis revealed that the ant possessed an enlarged gland, typically found in modern-day warrior ants to enable them to maintain life underground, suggesting that a long-lost European army ant lineage was similarly suited to life underground.
Because this species lives mostly underground, it is unlikely to come into contact with the tree resin that forms such fossils. Consequently, there are not many of them, which makes this fossil particularly important for drawing the evolutionary relationship between the discovered ant and the ants that live today.
100 years in the dark
Remarkably, the fossil was kept in secret for nearly 100 years in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, before it was identified by the paper’s lead author, Kristin Susiak.
The museum includes hundreds of drawers full of insect fossils, Suciak says: “But I came across a small specimen that was classified as a common species of ant while collecting data for another project. Once I put the ant under a microscope, I immediately realized that the label was inaccurate (…) I thought This is something really different.”
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