General, Research, Technology

Who are the "hell ants" and why do they look so strange?

To date, scientists know aboutthe existence of approximately 15,000 species of ants. Considering that most of us have seen a maximum of 3-4 of them with our own eyes, this fact for some people may be quite sudden. And this number is far from the limit, because scientists are confident that in the near future they will be able to discover about 10,000 more species of ants. Unfortunately, not all of them will be alive, because most of the insects have become extinct long ago and can only be recognized by their remains. And the remains of ants are preserved exclusively inside the fossilized tree resin, better known as amber. In 2017 on the territory Myanmar an amber fragment was found, inside whichone of the ancient ancestors of modern ants eats a small beetle. The species of this predator was recognized only recently - it turned out to be the so-called "hellish ant" with a horn on its forehead and "human" jaws. What else interesting did scientists manage to learn about this strange creature?

This is the head of an ant. But not hellish, but ordinary

Myanmar - a state located in Southeast Asia. In its northeastern part, the so-called Burmese amber is mined, inside of which there are often fossilized insects of ancient times.

Ancient ants

One of the first ants on Earth wastold in the scientific journal Current Biology. In fact, these same "hellish ants" have been known to scientists for a long time. In total, scientists discovered 16 varieties, and the existence of 14 of them became known only in recent decades. All of them were found in amber about 100 million years old and are very different from modern ants. For the most part, these "hellish" creatures have a formidable appearance - they have terrible horns, then powerful jaws. The found individual, which was attributed to the variety Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri, has just such features.

Hell ant and its victim inside amber and in the artist's view

In the found amber fragment, the ancestor of modernants feed on the cockroach Caputoraptor elegans. Representatives of this species of insects also became extinct long ago, so we had a chance to see a freeze-frame of the collision of creatures that lived millions of years ago. Like modern ants, the extinct creature has mandibles, also known as mandibles. This is the name of the paired jaws, which open horizontally and are used to chew food and build nests. Only now, in the case of the hell ants, they did not open horizontally, but worked like human jaws, moving strictly vertically.

Insect mandibles

Also on the head of an ant immured in amberthere is a horn. Apparently, scientists did not immediately guess about its purpose, because they focused their attention on it. Now they believe that this horn was used to capture the victim. Thus, they could grab cockroaches both directly with the help of their jaws, and by raising the upper jaw and pressing the victim between it and the horn. Not very convenient, but this feature of the body structure clearly increased the chance of capturing prey.

The structure of the head of a hellish ant

Extinction of animals

Researchers believe that ants with hornsemerged as an "evolutionary experiment". Perhaps they would have lived to this day, but they became extinct along with the dinosaurs, about 66 million years ago. The fact that many insects were able to survive the catastrophe, but these ants could not, proves that almost all living organisms on our planet can be on the verge of extinction. But at the moment, the threat overtakes a lot of animals. For example, it has recently become known that common hamsters are at risk of extinction. But it was previously believed that rodents are very tenacious creatures and they can adapt even to extreme conditions. You see, even the ubiquitous cockroaches will become an endangered species at this rate. Even scientists have hinted at all this, so humanity should definitely take care of the environment.

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Only this is not as easy to do as it seems. The way humanity is arranged is that some people do not care about the environment and the problems hanging over the whole world. Most of us continue to use cellophane bags and plastic bottles, although reports that they have filled even the seas and oceans seem to increase every year. Recently it became known that if humanity does not take measures to cleanse the planet of debris, the mass of plastic waste on our planet will be 1.3 billion tons. That is, we risk drowning in our own waste.

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