Although they lack fire-breathing capabilities, the unique, spiny characteristics of the ants reminded the scientists who discovered them of the mythical dragons from the fantasy series and inspired them to name the ants after the “Game of Thrones” dragons.
Scientists from Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University used ground-breaking 3D imaging technology to classify several new ants species, including the spiked Pheidole viserion and Pheidole drogon, named after dragons owned by the character Daenerys. What’s inside them might dramatically change what scientists think they’re for.
But Dr. Sarnat had another idea.
The results showed that the muscles appeared only in the major workers’ shoulders, confirming Sarnat theory. This is because it is not their role to defend or attack their colony – they just use their mandibles to chomp down thick seeds, whiole the minor workers maintain the nests.
This is similar to the CT scans used in hospitals, but allows for much higher resolution images of tiny subjects, like the ants.
Their hypothesis could be correct only if they find muscle tissue on major workers’ spines on shoulders. The major workers, however had disproportionately larger heads. These spikes might be meant for effective protection against predators.
These ants have sharp, curved spines that can get hooked in the throats of those trying to snack on them, he added. The minor workers have the size of an average ant, and the major workers have an enormous head, completely disproportionate from the rest of the body.
The most interesting fact about the ants is that the shape of their spikes evolved to support their behavior.
Eventually, the research could help shedding light on the complicated relationship between the function and the form in the evolution of insects.
The coolest thing is that the researchers used a portable CT scanner to image the ants.
The new species have been identified by Dr. Georg Fischer, Dr. Eli Sarnat, and Prof.
Large and distinctive spines give this new ant species a dragon-like appearance.
But when Sarnat took the name to his colleagues, they thought such weird looking ants deserved “a more standout name”, he says.
According to Economo, head of OIST’s Biodiversity Unit, “this is one of the first studies in ant taxonomy to use micro-CT”. However, their spines are not only dragon-like, what is inside them are dramatic enough for scientists to question their use.
There was another species discovered and the researchers named it Pheidole viserion, after Khaleesi’s red orange-winged dragon, writes Tech Times.