Two new dragon ants have been named after the dragons from the Game of Thrones. Both species have spikes on their back which make them resemble the two dragons from the TV series.
The spikes were thought to have a defensive role, as they can hook into the throats of frogs, birds, and reptiles that try to eat the small creatures.
However, another theory emerged. The Pheidole genus has a very particular trait; they work divided into two castes of workers. The minor workers have the size of an average ant, and the major workers have an enormous head, completely disproportionate from the rest of the body.
The big heads support massive jaws that are used to break food resources that are afterward shared within the colony.
Therefore, the scientists ventured the idea that the hooks on the back were in fact packed with muscles that would help the major workers manipulate their oversized mandibles.
To verify the theory, the researchers took scans of the ants by using a micro computed tomography machine that displays 3D images. Just as expected, the tissue appeared only on the shoulder spines of the ants.
However, the pointy form shows that the spikes could still be used as defense mechanisms. The scientists believe that at first the formations appeared because of the powerful muscles, and then evolved into weapons and predator repellents.
The most interesting fact about the ants is that the shape of their spikes evolved to support their behavior. Therefore, the need for bigger jaws that could deal with a certain type of food made the body of some ants to change.
The micro-CT scanning can also help scientists to have a clearer image of the function of other species and to highlight evolutionary connections among them based on the way their morphology reflects their functionality.
The researchers have tried to find a more scientific name for the dragon, something in Latin that would describe the shape of the ant spines. However, the names from the Game of Throne series were a better match for the two species. Thus, the black ant received the name Drogon, and the gold ant received the name Viserion.
There are 15,000 different ant species in the world, and 1,100 of them belong to the Pheidole genus. The species is very diverse; however, the spikes are highly uncommon. The researchers are trying to pay more attention to the little variations created by nature because they can hold the key to the evolution in nature.
Image Source: Wikipedia