Tuesday, September 18, 2018

This Prehistoric “Hell-Ant” Attacked Prey With a Metal Horn

Image: Systematic Entomology

This prehistoric ant stabbed its prey with a metal horn — and then sucked out their blood. 

Researchers found the ant encased in amber and estimated it dates back 98 million years ago, when the dinosaurs walked the earth. They have named the new species Linguamyrmex vladi, the ‘vladi’ part in reference to the original Dracula.

Unlike traditional ants, these ants had two large mandibular blades lined with hairs that would set off a warning when prey passed by. When the blades were engaged they would effectively fling their prey into the air and impale them on a deadly-looking metal horn. The mandibles had hollowed tubes that they may have inserted beneath their prey’s skin in order to suck out the insect equivalent of blood.

“Until we find a specimen with the prey item trapped, which is probably a matter of time, we’re left to speculate,” lead author of the study Phillip Barden at the New Jersey Institute of Technology tells Josh Gabbatiss at New Scientist.

The insect was discovered in amber at a mine in Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley. Scientists utilized a whole arsenal of equipment in order to study this unique creature, including X-rays, CT scans, and light microscopy techniques.

This isn’t the first vampiric ant ever discovered — according to the Smithsonian, five other species of these “hell ants” have been studied over the past two decades, with the first one identified in the 1920s. 

The full study was published in Systematic Entomology.