LIFE SCIENCE

What did ants look like in the age of dinosaurs


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Restoration of the wedding flight scene of Ji Ant. Liu Ye painting

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A sample of geetypis ants in amber female breeding ants. Photo by Zhuang Yuhui

Amber is an ancient dripping resin, like a sealed time capsule, giving us the opportunity to get more details. Recently, a team of Chinese scientists took the insect inclusions of Kachin amber in Cretaceous Myanmar as the research object, successfully reconstructed the internal anatomy of an ancient ant in the dinosaur era, revealed the most complete preserved ant internal soft tissue structure in the fossil, and provided direct evidence for the research on the evolution of the internal structure of insects. The results were published online in BMC Ecology and Evolution.

The study’s amber contains a female breeding ant of a ji ant, formed 100 million years ago in the middle Cretaceous period, in the Hukang River Valley of Myanmar, and is one of the earliest ant fossil records.

“We used micro-CT technology to scan the amber sample with high precision and perform a fine three-dimensional structural reconstruction.” Dr. Xu Wenjing, co-first author of the paper and Northwest A&F University, said, “After scanning multiple amber samples, the research team was fortunate to find the exquisite internal anatomy preserved in this sample. Although the head of this ancient ant is less than 1 millimeter wide, we have obtained a wealth of head information, including a near-complete brain, in which the muscles and glands are also very intact. ”

Ji ants are also known as “little devil ants” because the palate and upper lip of the mouthparts are covered with spike-like bristles, and they look strange. The upper lip of the ji ant is movable, like a flap, and can assist the palate to catch the prey, which is very cool! Ran Hao, a co-corresponding author of the paper and a researcher at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, “We also unexpectedly found that there is a special sac-like structure in the chest of this ant, which is speculated to have a similar function to the ‘social stomach’ of modern ants.” ”

It is reported that the research team also analyzed the morphological characteristics of the nervous system, digestive system, exocrine system, muscular system, etc. of the taxa, and discussed its paleoecological significance.

“This study fully demonstrates the great role played by CT technology and computer three-dimensional reconstruction technology in paleontological research. These advanced techniques allow researchers to understand the extinct ancient animals more completely, explore their possible habits and reconstruct their evolutionary trees through the internal organs preserved in fossils. Liu Yu, a co-corresponding author of the paper and a researcher at the Institute of Paleontology of Yunnan University, said, “It is hoped that in the future, these advanced technologies can be applied to the study of more amber fossil samples, which will enable us to have a deeper understanding of the body structure, ecological behavior and evolution process of those extinct ancient animals.” (Source: Hu Minqi, China Science News)

Related paper information:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12862-022-02099-2



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