Ancient Ant Battle Preserved in Amber

Posted on February 15, 2016

Ant battle preserved in amber

A battle between two ant species was found preserved in 100-million-year-old amber. Scientists say the amber discovery shows that advanced sociality in ants and termites was present tens of millions of years earlier than indicated by the previous fossil record.

Scientists from the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Kansas led the research. Advanced sociality, or eusociality, is thought to have appeared first in termites in the Late Jurassic, about 150-160 million years ago. Before the new discovery the earliest termites ever found that could definitively be tied to a caste system were from 20 to 17 million years ago. The expected lengthy ant eusociality history was also only weakly supported through fossil evidence.

Dave Grimaldi, a curator in the Museum's Division of Invertebrate Zoology, says in a statement, "Ecologically, advanced sociality is one of the most important adaptive features for animals. All ants and termites are social, and they are ubiquitous across terrestrial landscapes, with thousands of described species and probably even more that we haven't yet found."

The Myanmar ant amber fossils include the ant battle pictured above with ants from two different species. Other amber fossils found at the site show the presence of different castes, including queen ants and workers. Scientists also found six different termite species preserved in the amber, two of which are new to science. One of the new species, Krishnatermes yoddha, is pictured below.

Krishnatermes yoddha

The research papers on the findings can be found here and here in Current Biology.

Photos: AMNH/D. Grimaldi and P. Barden