It turns out that termites and ants were fighting for food and territory a lot longer ago than it was previously thought, a fact confirmed by a 100 million year old piece of amber which preserved an interesting scene in the life of ancient ants.
In the amber, researchers discovered two different ant species of prehistoric nature fighting and trying to end each other’s lives. In that very moment, tree sap poured over them and preserved their fossil inside the amber.
Co-author of the study Dave Grimaldi, a curator at the Museum of Natural History, explained this discovery gives us a glimpse into the otherwise unknown behavior of ancient ants. “Ecologically,” he added, “advanced sociality is one of the most adaptive features for animals.”
When it comes to termites and ants, their ubiquity makes it impossible for scientists to know how many roam across terrestrial landscapes; so far, thousands of species have been described, but probably even more have yet to be found.
Advance sociality – also known as eusociality – is the most developed level of organization that scientists have found in the animal society. It involves division of labor or cooperation within the ranks of a group; some protect the colony while others go searching for food.
Researchers have observed various levels of social behavior in a wide range of arthropods, starting from beetles, shrimps, and honey bees; ants and termites also follow the pattern.
According to previous fossil records, eusociality went back as far as 20 to 17 million years old, but the latest discovery suggests indicates that it goes much further – even during the times dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
The ants and termites discovered in the piece of amber are part of the earliest branches of each evolutionary tree, which means the species widely differ in aspect from their modern relatives today.
Researchers were surprised to see this social characteristic present in the amber found in Myanmar; six different types of termite species had been preserved, two of which are brand new to scientists. One of the new species is a potential contender for the largest soldier termite ever found.
In the picture, gigantotermes rex is the larger termite – about an inch long – engaged in combat with an ant specimen; its body proportion is rather strange, with its head accounting for the half of the body.
Researchers estimate that 100 trillion ants are currently roaming the Earth; even though ants don’t have the spider’s scary factor, this information can paint a rather disturbing image in our heads.
Image Source: Phys.org