New Guinea may be the second largest island in the world, but now it could be the first on the bucket list of every true Game of Thrones fan. The reason for that is the discovery of two new ant species, which have been named after the notorious dragons from the fan favourite HBO series – Viserion and Drogon. The island itself is a real ant paradise, as it is the habitat of more than 800 species of ants. Around 60% of this ants live only on New Guinea, and Pheidole viserion and Pheidole drogon are among them.
With the help of technique that uses 3D imaging technology to identify insects, the scientist discovered the dragon resembling ants with spine covered exoskeletons. Although being a tad smaller than the fire-breathing lizards, they share distinct blade-like serrations adorning their backs. But the ants ornate spines are a product of evolution and are significant for their functioning.
The “major” workers have disproportionately large heads, packed with muscle.
The Pheidole group has more than 40 species that are divided in a sort of “caste” system. There are “minor” and “major” workers, each physically evolved to perform their specific task within the colony. The later are basically soldiers, defending their own “gang” from rival ants and predators. On the first glance one might say that the spines are shields for the soldiers, but the truth lies deeper. The “major” workers in fact have disproportionately large heads, packed with muscle, making them fearsome opponents. So the spines are supporting the heavy head and body, rather than serving as a defence mechanism.
The discovery of Pheidole viserion and Pheidole drogon clearly demonstrates the diversity in species that New Guinea offers. The island comprises just 1% of the world’s land area but is estimated to harbour 5% of all plant and animal species, half of which are yet to be formally described. Furthermore the new “dragon” ants help the island in safeguarding its declining terrestrial ecosystems, by highlighting the island issues. If no one else, Game of Thrones fans will admire the spiked dragon ants and perhaps visit in many cases forgotten island.
H/T: The Conversation