Ants, like the Romans, began tussling with others a long time ago for territory and food. But ants began much, much longer ago.
That is, ants started their warring ways at least 99 million years ago, says a recent study led by Phillip Barden, who specializes in fossil insects and works at the Insect and Evolution Lab directed by Assistant Professor Jessica L. Ware of Rutgers University-Newark. He is also affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History.
"That's a trait of ants," Barden said in a release. "Many ant species do that all the time. They're always warring with either other individuals of the same species from different colonies or with different species."
Ant wars started out while huge dinosaurs roamed the Earth, in the Cretaceous period, according to the study findings recently published in the journal Current Biology.
Part of the proof of this was fighting ants and other insects found fixed in Burmese amber from Myanmar. These are very early ants.
"These early ants belong to lineages distinct from modern ants," Barden said in the release. "That is, they aren't necessarily the direct ancestors of modern ants. They're kind of their own branch doing their own thing."
It's also clear from the amber evidence that ancient ants are like their modern-day relatives in being social. "We have one piece of amber with as many as 21 worker ants trapped, and that's significant because at this time period, ants are very rare to find in fossils. They make up less than 1 percent of all insects in amber," Barden said in the release. "So to find 20 in one piece is highly suggestive of social behavior."
There is also evidence of inter-species wars: "Ants and termites, we think, warred throughout the last 100 million years or so," he said. "Ants were always trying to take advantage of termites."
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