Newly discovered ants named after dragons of ‘Game of Thrones’

Researchers have taken inspiration from ‘Game of Thrones’ to name two newly discovered ants, which are the members of the Pheidole genus.

The two new ant species have been named ‘Pheidole viserion’ and ‘Pheidole drogon’ because of their dragon-like appearance with distinctive large spines protruding from their dorsal plates. Scientists have described their discovery in a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers from Okinawa Institute of Science & Technology Graduate University, Japan, used X-ray microtomography (micro-CT) for the first time to identify and model ants in the Pheidole cervicornis group found in the tropical rainforests of New Guinea. While it is not the first time that spikes have been discovered in certain ant species, it was assumed that these structures were for self-defence.

This is not the case though as authors of the new study, using micro-CT, reveal that in soldier ants of these new species, neck spines contain muscle fibers. Scientists suggest that the muscles in the spines may help these ants to hold up their massive heads; however, they say that more research is needed to say this concretely.

Eli Sarnat from the University says that these spiky structures would point to defence as a reason for having then, but the internal morphology revealed by this new micro-CT scanning technology suggests that the answer might also have something to do with muscle mechanics and powering the huge heads of the soldier ants.

In a related study also published July 27, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE the authors describe two additional new species of ants from the Pheidole knowlesi species group found in the Fijian Islands. In contrast to their highly adorned New Guinean relatives, Pheidole ululevu and Pheidole kava have a much less dramatic appearance, and were named after their large head and a mildly narcotic drink from the Pacific Islands, respectively.

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