Fans of Jurassic Park will remember the pivotal scene at the start of the movie where a shiny orange piece of glass is discovered that contains DNA, allowing dinosaurs to be recreated. In that movie, a mosquito is found with the blood of some dinosaurs still inside. While that hasn’t happened and dinosaurs do not walk the earth today, a recent golden discovery has got historians just as excited (ok almost).
The orange glass in the movie is in fact amber. This is able to preserve things over time because insects get trapped in tree sap which then solidifies and preserves whatever was inside. In the case of Jurassic Park, it was a mosquito while in reality an ant that is 99 million years old was recently discovered. The ant was found with a cockroach in its grasp ready to be devoured.
The ant discovered is a species called a hell ant that is now extinct. Historians were incredibly excited as they were able to study the body of the hell ant and were able to see exactly how it used its weapons. The ant had the cockroach pinned down with two large talons protruding from its head and had smashed it with a large horn on its face. No other ant in the world exists like this and expert biologists have been able to trace the evolution of this ant to the features of modern-day ants.
This ant is particularly amazing because for its weapons to work its jaw would have to open and shut vertically, while every other species of ant opens its jaws horizontally. After capturing the cockroach paleontologists believe that the ant would then have applied a sting that would have stopped the cockroach from being able to flee. After that, ant experts can only theorize as to how the social construct and anatomies functioned. They believe that the adult ant has such a strange mouth that it could not feed on the cockroach itself, instead, it would have to feed the cockroach to its larvae and then cut open the bodies of the larva and drink its blood.
That may sound absolutely insane and cannibalistic but it is the most likely explanation. There is an ant that exists today who carries out feeding exactly like this, so it makes perfect sense that this ant may be the same. This fossil was found in Myanmar, a virtual treasure trove of amber fossils. However, there has been so much conflict in the region that it has been impossible for archaeologists to dig in the area. Amber itself is now tied to conflict trades and so is an area that many people do not want to go near. The people who found this particular piece assured us that it had nothing to do with the conflict.
The hell ant went extinct 66 million years ago and no one is sure why. There is evidence to show that it lived for around 20 million years and while many species of ants that lived then are still alive now, the hell ant was not so lucky. When asked why the hell ant died, paleontologists only offered one explanation; that is what most species do. 99% of species on our planet have gone extinct. A vital reminder of how lucky we are to be on this planet and how we must treat it as a gift not a right. While we may be the dominant species today, the future is unknown. For proof of that just ask our friend the hell ant who had a cockroach pinned, ready for feeding before his whole world came apart.