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Oldest Ant

October 6, 2008

A scientist discovers the world’s oldest living ant species in the Amazon.


An ancient ant unearthed….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

As an evolutionary biologist, Christian Rabeling has come across many strange creatures in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil. But none have surprised him as much as his discovery of a pale, eyeless ant with extra-long jaws. Rabeling, now at the University of Texas, Austin, says the ant’s unique characteristics make it ideally suited for subterranean life, but little else is know about the creature.

CHRISTIAN RABELING (University of Texas, Austin):
We tried to compare its physique to all the described species of ants, and we did not find anything comparible to it.

He and his colleagues jokingly dubbed the oddity "Martialis heureka" or "ant from Mars". Now DNA analysis has revealed that it belongs to the oldest branch of the ant family tree—a relic from over a hundred million years ago, when ants first split off from their wasp-like relatives. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.