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99 million-year-old ant found in amber eating a cockroach

99 million years old fossilized hell ant.
99 million years old: Researchers study a fossilized "hell ant" found in amber while eating a cockroach.

Scientists in Myanmar found a 99 million year old "hell ant" with scythe-like jaws.also known as haidomyrmecine, the insect was found inside an amber tree, where it was kept over centuries, while eating its fatal victim: a cockroach. The new fossil not only reveals how this type of ant captured its prey, but also reveals part of the insect's evolution.

Researchers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Rennes in France published their findings last week in the journal Current Biology, and the news was picked up by The Sun.

The amber found allows us to know what the predatory strategy of the "hell ant" looked like. Credit: Current Biology

The fossil is conserved in an excellent state and allows us to get to know this recently identified prehistoric ant species better. It also shows how these "hell ants" were their predatory strategy. These insects "embraced" the victim, which in the case of the fossil, is an extinct relative of the cockroach known as caputoraptor elegans.

It is believed that these ants moved their scythe-like jaws upward to immobilize their prey against the horn-shaped bump between their antennae.

Thanks to the discovery, it is possible to know the anatomy of the "ants from hell". While the jaws of modern ants, as well as all adult insects, move horizontally, the jaws of hell ants move vertically, similar to the way human jaws open and close.

According to researchers, the finding also offers a possible evolutionary explanation for the difference between prehistoric ants and their modern relatives. For Phillip Barden, assistant professor in the NJIT's Department of Biological Sciences, the information obtained from this fossil is "invaluable. "Ever since the first hell ant was unearthed about 100 years ago, it's been a mystery why these extinct animals are so different from the ants we have today," he added.

"This fossil reveals the mechanism behind what we could call an 'evolutionary experiment', and although we see numerous such experiments in the fossil record, we often do not have a clear picture of the evolutionary path that led to them," the specialist added.

Hell ants are believed to have died around the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event 65 million years ago.