. . . This year has been weird when it comes to insects, but I have some good news. At least the “ants of hell” are gone.
Haidomyrmecine (“hell ants”) lived during the Cretaceous period. One of these small, strange creatures was discovered trapped in 99-year-old amber. But they are not all. This particular specimen was found with a nymph of an insect like a cockroach firmly entrenched in its grip.
The startling scene of an ancient preaching endeavor has opened a window into the past for a team of researchers led by evolutionary biologist Phillip Barden of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Barden is the lead author of a study on hell ants, published in the current journal Biology on Thursday.
The newly discovered ant species is called Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri.
According to a release from the NJIT, the specimen “presents some of the first direct evidence showing how she and the other ants of hell once used their killer traits – tearing off their strange but deadly mandibles, like those of the scheme.” in a vertical motion to pin their prey and their horn-shaped appendages ”.
Modern ants use a lateral movement to grab their prey, which makes hell ants like this all weird.
An illustrated version of the ant and the nymph gives a clearer picture of the ant’s unusual physical features and how it is holding on to its prey.
“This fossilized predator confirms our hypothesis about how parts of the ants’ mouths worked,” Barden said. “The only way the prey can be caught in such an arrangement is for parts of the ant’s mouth to move up and down in a direction different from that of all living ants and almost all insects.”
Raising a spider and other cold things trapped in amber
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Barden described this unusual mechanism of the mouth as an “evolutionary experiment.” The researcher has investigated and described other species of hell ants, including a horned ant named after Vlad the Impaler.
These long-extinct insects are attractive creatures, and Barden is still curious why the ants of hell died. “I think fossil insects are a reminder that even something so ubiquitous and familiar that ants have become extinct,” he said.