January 23, 2021


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Prehistoric ‘Hell Ant’ Stuck in Amber Has Been Biting Its Prey For 99 Million Years

A long-extinct lineage of insect, recognized fondly as the ‘hell ant’, has been found frozen in 99-million-12 months-old amber, with its scythe-like jaw nevertheless pinning its prey.

According to researchers, this fierce predator is a recently identified species of prehistoric ant, known as Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri, and it’s the very first time we’ve at any time seen a hell ant actively feeding. Its food is an extinct relative of the cockroach.


“Fossilised conduct is exceedingly scarce, predation particularly so,” states Phillip Barden, who scientific studies social insect evolution at the New Jersey Institute of Technologies (NJIT).

“As palaeontologists, we speculate about the perform of ancient diversifications applying out there evidence, but to see an extinct predator caught in the act of capturing its prey is priceless.”

Ants are some of the most various creatures on world Earth. To date, experts have recognized in excess of 12,500 distinctive species and they consider there are most likely yet another 10,000 or so out there, just ready to be discovered underfoot.

That is rather the variety. And still of all the ants marching right now, none of them appear anything like what scientists have identified in amber deposits from Myanmar, Canada, and France. 

In truth, Barden suggests the mouthparts of these haidomyrmecine hell ants are as opposed to that of almost all insects alive now. This recently-determined hell ant made use of its reduced mandible to shift upwards and pin its prey to the horn-like paddle previously mentioned. 

Other hell ants learned in the earlier also have this horn, and although experts imagined it may be a kind of clamp, this 99-million-12 months-previous fossil is the to start with authentic evidence that can back that up. 


Contrary to these historical bugs, fashionable ants and nearly all other dwelling hexapods have mandibles that only shift on a horizontal axis.

“Since the very first hell ant was unearthed about a hundred decades back, it truly is been a secret as to why these extinct animals are so distinct from the ants we have these days,” Barden says.

“This fossil reveals the mechanism powering what we may well contact an ‘evolutionary experiment,’ and although we see numerous these types of experiments in the fossil file, we usually you should not have a crystal clear image of the evolutionary pathway that led to them.”

 (Barden et al., Present-day Biology, 2020)

Above: The hell ant Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri grasping a nymph of Caputoraptor elegans (Alienoptera) preserved in amber dated to about 99 million many years.

Hell ants basically precede the most common ancestor of all dwelling ants, and even then, they have been exceptionally assorted.

Other species trapped in amber have been found outfitted with spiky mouthparts, most probably applied to consume their victims’ blood.

Fashionable ants, on the other hand, glimpse remarkably distinct. They have mouths going through forward, which keeps their heads rather parallel to the ground, although they can appear up and all over.

Hell ants could not shift their heads practically as nicely, and they probable captured prey with their mouths struggling with downwards.

illustrationhellantA simplified reconstruction of the hell ant ingesting from a lateral see. (Barden et al., Present-day Biology, 2020)

“In spite of staggering anatomical range of insects, larval dytiscid beetles and hell ants jointly show up to characterize the only two identified instances of mandible-on-head get hold of employed in prey capture, the two showing up with vertically articulating mouthparts,” the authors produce.

Why particularly hell ants died out as a lineage after practically 20 million yrs of existence is still unknown, but it could possibly have to do with their specialised predatory behaviour.

Barden suggests it just goes to present that even the most numerous and ubiquitous species on Earth can go extinct. Even some thing as acquainted as an ant.

The study was published in Present-day Biology.

A model of this report was initially released in August 2020.