A long, long time ago, in the lands of Earth, lived the ant species with a demonic name. Unfortunately, with all their lethal upward-facing blades, the "hell ant" still became an extinct lineage since the Cretaceous Period. But their absence doesn't stop our researchers from understanding this prehistoric insects.
Phillip Barden at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark and colleagues discovered the new species, called Linguamyrmex vladi, trapped in 98-million-year-old amber. They appear to be so unique that none of the living species today has such intricate facial anatomy.
Researchers believe that while coined a "unicorn ant" by Vincent Perrichot at the University of Rennes 1 in France, this peculiar species could have a similar "facial hair" with the modern trap-jaw ants. These hairs trigger their mouths into snapping when something (i.e. an insect) brushes on it.
And when examined in the CT scan, they even found that their protruding horn-like appendage was reinforced with metal!
The blade-like mandibles were then used to impale the prey and push through its outer layer. “You have this sort of stopping plate, made to accommodate the mandibles closing and capturing prey,” says Barden.
“Probably the metal helps to keep the horn undamaged,” says Perrichot.
“[Well,] it makes sense to reinforce that [appendage],” agrees Barden. They believe this is an effective evolution as the horn would've needed to withstand the mandibles' impacts.
But the use of their feeding apparatus doesn't stop there: they may have also been a vampire. Researchers found that they form a "gutter" by moving their precious mandibles upwards. “That might be something that developed to funnel haemolymph – insect blood – down through the mouthparts,” says Barden.
And guess what? They also found a preserved beetle grub next to it which is exactly the kind of “squishy, haemolymph-laden insect” these vampires would feed on. But with their strong horns, they could've also fed on adult insects with tougher cuticles as well.
“Until we find a specimen with the prey item trapped, which is probably a matter of time, we’re left to speculate,” says Barden.
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