- An amber taken from Myanmar caught the moment a hell ant caught its victim
- This helped researchers confirm how the ants of hell use their mouth parts
- Why they disappeared after millions of years of being successful remains a mystery
Researchers discovered a 99-year-old amber who captured the moment a “hell ant” caught its prey using its horn-shaped mandibles. Thanks to amber, researchers were able to confirm how the ants of hell used their unique mandibles.
Hell ants from the Cretaceous period are among the earliest ants known to science. They are known for their unique rod-shaped mandibles and horn-like attachments, in what would be their forehead. These are traits that researchers say can no longer be found in any other living species.
Although they have identified 16 species of hell ants so far, they remain quite a mystery to scientists and this mystery involves how the ants of hell used their unique traits.
“Since the first ant of hell was discovered about a hundred years ago, it has been a mystery why these extinct animals are so distinct from the ants we have today,” lead author Phillip Barden of the New Jersey Institute of Technology study ( NJIT) said in a news publication.
In a new study, a team of researchers from NJIT, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Rennes in France had the unique opportunity to learn more about the ants of hell, thanks to a rarity fossil which was found from Myanmar. This particular amber caught the moment a hell of an ant had abducted an elegans of Caputoraptor, which is a relative of cockroaches.
Barden says such a fossil that shows behavior, especially predators, is “extremely rare.” By studying it, researchers were able to confirm how the ants of hell used their mouth pipes.
“Our findings confirm the hypothesis that hellfire ants caught other arthropods between the mandible and the horn in a way that could only be achieved by articulating their mouths on an axial plane perpendicular to that of modern ants,” the researchers wrote.
Compared to modern ants moving their chests sideways or sideways to each other, the ants of hell moved their horn-like mandibles up and down, essentially, to drink their prey against horn-like attachments.
The team was also able to confirm that the ants of hell belong to one of the earliest branches of the “evolutionary ant tree” and that the elongated horn feature developed twice in the ants of hell.
But the question of why species of hell ants became extinct despite being quite successful for nearly 20 million years remains. The predatory features of hell ants are also believed to have disappeared about 65 million years ago during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event.
“Over 99% of all the species that have ever lived have become extinct,” Barden said. “As our planet undergoes its sixth mass extinction event, it is important that we work to understand missing diversity and what can allow certain lines to continue while others abandon. I think insects “Fossils are a reminder that even something so ubiquitous and familiar that ants have become extinct.”
survey has been published in Current Biology.