Date:

New Cretaceous fossils shed light on the early evolution of ants

Ants comprise one lineage of the triumvirate of eusocial insects and experienced their early diversification within the Cretaceous.

The success of ants is generally attributed to their remarkable social behavior. Recent studies suggest that the early branching lineages of extant ants formed small colonies of either subterranean or epigeic, solitary specialist predators.

- Advertisement -

The vast majority of Cretaceous ants belong to stem-group Formicidae and comprise workers and reproductives of largely generalized morphologies, and it is difficult to draw clear conclusions about their ecology, although recent discoveries from the Cretaceous suggest relatively advanced social levels.

Remarkable exceptions to this pattern of generalized morphologies are ants with bizarre mouthparts in which both female castes have modified heads and bladelike mandibles that uniquely move in a horizontal rather than vertical plane. Haidomyrmecines have puzzled evolutionary biologists as to their specific ecology, with the mandibles apparently acting as traps triggered by sensory hairs in a way distinct from that of modern trap-jaw ants.

Not all ants cooperate in social hunting, however, and some of the most effective predatory ants are solitary hunters with powerful trap jaws. Models of early ant evolution predict that the first ants were solitary specialist predators, but discoveries of Cretaceous fossils suggest group recruitment and socially advanced behavior among stem-group ants.

Dr. WANG Bo of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues describe a new bizarre ant, Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri, from 99 million-year-old Burmese amber that displays a prominent cephalic horn and oversized, scythelike mandibles that extend high above the head. These structures presumably functioned as a highly specialized trap for large-bodied prey. The horn results from an extreme modification of the clypeus hitherto unseen among living and extinct ants, which demonstrates the presence of an exaggerated trap-jaw morphogenesis early among stem-group ants.

- Advertisement -

Together with other Cretaceous haidomyrmecine ants, the new fossil suggests that at least some of the earliest Formicidae were solitary specialist predators. In addition, it demonstrates that soon after the advent of ant societies in the Early Cretaceous, at least one lineage, the Haidomyrmecini, became adept at prey capture, independently arriving at morphological specializations that would be lost for millions of years after their disappearance near the close of the Mesozoic. The exaggerated condition in the new fossil reveals a proficiency for carriage of large-bodied prey to the exclusion of smaller, presumably easier-to-subdue prey, and highlights a more complex and diversified suite of ecological traits for the earliest ants.

CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES HEADQUARTERS

- Advertisement -
spot_img
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
spot_img

Mobile Application

spot_img

Related Articles

Roman Era tomb found guarded by carved bull heads

Archaeologists excavating at the ancient Tharsa necropolis have uncovered a Roman Era tomb guarded by two carved bull heads.

Revolutionary war barracks discovered at Colonial Williamsburg

Archaeologists excavating at Colonial Williamsburg have discovered a barracks for soldiers of the Continental Army during the American War of Independence.

Pleistocene hunter-gatherers settled in Cyprus thousands of years earlier than previously thought

Archaeologists have found that Pleistocene hunter-gatherers settled in Cyprus thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

Groundbreaking study reveals new insights into chosen locations of pyramids’ sites

A groundbreaking study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, has revealed why the largest concentration of pyramids in Egypt were built along a narrow desert strip.

Soldiers’ graffiti depicting hangings found on door at Dover Castle

Conservation of a Georgian door at Dover Castle has revealed etchings depicting hangings and graffiti from time of French Revolution.

Archaeologists find Roman villa with ornate indoor plunge pool

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Cultural Heritage have uncovered a Roman villa with an indoor plunge pool during excavations at the port city of Durrës, Albania.

Archaeologists excavate medieval timber hall

Archaeologists from the University of York have returned to Skipsea in East Yorkshire, England, to excavate the remains of a medieval timber hall.

Archaeologists find traces of Gloucester’s medieval castle

Archaeologists from Cotswold Archaeology have uncovered traces of Gloucester’s medieval castle in Gloucester, England.