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These New Spiky Ant Species Look Like Khaleesi's Dragons From 'Game of Thrones'

Aug 02, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
Two new rare species of ants have been discovered in New Guinea that has a spiked back resembling the dragons from Daenerys Targaryen in "Game of Thrones."
(Photo : Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons)

Daenerys Targaryen's dragons in "Game of Thrones" can now be a reality -- only smaller. Scientists have found two new species of spiky ants in New Guinea that resembles Khaleesi's famous dragons, Drogon and Viserion.

According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the two new ants species, named Pheidole drogon and Pheidole viserion, are extremely rare and classified as major workers. These ants are significantly different in appearance due to their spiky, wing-like spine portruding out of their dorsal plates.

Eli Sarnat, author of the study, explained to CS Monitor that usually, spines are used as defense against predation. However, for these new dragon ants, the spikes could be another way to support their large heads and jaws, which are used for chomping and gathering resources.

To examine their theory, the group scanned the new ant species through micro CT tomography. In this process, they were able to do a 3D X-ray image of the dragon ants even without cutting them.

"This is one of the first studies in ant taxonomy to use micro-CT," said Evan Economo, the researcher who came up with the "Game of Thrones" names, via "While this method is gaining popularity in different scientific fields, it is rare to use it in this way."

The scientists discovered that unlike minor worker ants, the new species of major ants have muscles supporting their spikes.

However, Sarnat did not scrape off the idea that these spines could have been used for predators but said that their function was initially for head support.

Of the 1,100 species of ants under the Pheidole genus, Sarnat reveals that the two newly discovered species are the only ones with an elaborate and complex spine structure.

James Water from Providence College says that there are still more ant species waiting to be discovered in the future.

"It's estimated that we've only discovered a small fraction of the different kinds of life on Earth, so every new species we identify and describe is a huge benefit to humanity," he said.

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