Paleontologists have described a new species of ants from the Cretaceous period - with a pair of sharp blades on their jaws, a metal-reinforced horn and a tendency to vampirism.
The group of fossil hymenoptera Sphecomyrminae existed about 100 million years ago. None of the living ants have preserved such anatomy of the jaw, with mandibles - upper jaws - extended into impressive and sharp blades. This was the specimen found by Phillip Barden and his colleagues at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark in a piece of amber dating from the Cretaceous period - about 98 million years ago. Description of the new species Linguamyrmex vladi publishes the journal Systematic Entomology.
According to the authors of the article, the arrangement of the bristles around the mouth apparatus of the insect resembles modern odontomachus ants, whose mandibles are arranged like traps, instantly and automatically slamming on the victim. It is possible that the “mouth blades” of L. vladi also acted in this way, triggering the stimulation of the oral bristles and striking the victim with a forward and upward movement - wherever they were met by a powerful and sharp horn.
Computed tomography data showed that the horn was reinforced with metal microparticles. And this feature of unique ants itself has already been encountered by scientists - for example, another representative of the Cretaceous Sphecomyrminae group, the “unicorn ant”, discovered in 2016, was distinguished by such a “reinforced” horn. Apparently, the inclusion of microcrystals of zinc and iron made it possible to make the insect's main weapon especially durable and withstand the most serious blows.
All the traits of L. vladi have already been met separately by specialists, but such a combination comes across for the first time. In addition to blades-mandibles and metallized horns, they could even be blood-sucking. Barden and his co-authors note that the complex shape of the jaws may indicate a relief of the flow of hemolymph (analogous to blood in insects) from the pierced victim into the mouth opening. In the same sample of amber, scientists found the remains of a beetle - perhaps a victim of such vampirism.