Quirks & Quarks

Ants locked in mortal combat for 99 million years

Amber preserves signs of conflict, consistent with modern behaviour, in ant fossils that are among the oldest known

Ants frozen in amber reflect long-lasting conflicts

Amber preserves ants of two different species in mid-fight (AMNH/D. Grimaldi, P. Barden)
Ants are believed to have lived as far back as 160 million years ago. But the oldest physical evidence of their existence was recently studied by Dr. Philip Barden, a Post-doctoral Fellow in the Department of Biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and the American Museum of Natural History.

That evidence was found in a collection of 99-million-year-old amber - fossilized tree resin - from Myanmar. Among the many pieces studied was one that includes two ants of different species locked in battle, while another holds eleven worker ants all of the same species.

Although both species generally resemble modern ants, neither exists today. More significant, however, is the fact that the ants trapped in the amber exhibit the same social behaviour known in the hundreds of ant species today. 

Related Links

- Paper in Current Biology
- Rutgers University release
- American Museum of Natural History blog
LiveScience story
- Discovery News story