The mythical dragons from “Game of Thrones” have come to (virtual) life in insect form. A high-resolution 3-D imaging technique has allowed scientists to identify two new ant species whose unique spines inspired the researchers to name them after dragons in the hit fantasy series.
The researchers used X-ray microtomography to create virtual 3-D models of the new species, named Pheidole drogon and Pheidole viserion. P. drogon can be seen in the above video.
The ants, which live in the tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea, were identified and documented by Georg Fischer, Eli Sarnat and Evan Economo from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University, Japan.
The scientists used their virtual 3-D specimens to look inside worker ants’ spines for clues to their function. While the most likely function of the spines may be for defense against predators, the researchers also found that the spines were filled with muscle, which may make the ants stronger and more robust than non-spiny ants.
Research Article: Sarnat EM, Fischer G, Economo EP (2016) Inordinate Spinescence: Taxonomic Revision and Microtomography of the Pheidole cervicornis Species Group (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). PLoS ONE 11(7): e0156709. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0156709
Video Credit: Sarnat et al. (2016)