Fossil ants discovered in French Cretaceous amber

Leaf cutter ant in Colombian amber

From German magazine Naturwissenschaften:

Abstract: Recent studies on the ant phylogeny are mainly based on the molecular analyses of extant subfamilies and do not include the extinct, only Cretaceous subfamily Sphecomyrminae. However, the latter is of major importance for ant relationships, as it is considered the most basal subfamily. Therefore, each new discovery of a Mesozoic ant is of high interest for improving our understanding of their early history and basal relationships.

In this paper, a new sphecomyrmine ant, allied to the Burmese amber genus Haidomyrmex, is described from mid-Cretaceous amber of France as Haidomyrmodes mammuthus gen. and sp. n. The diagnosis of the tribe Haidomyrmecini is emended based on the new type material, which includes a gyne (alate female) and two incomplete workers.

The genus Sphecomyrmodes, hitherto known by a single species from Burmese amber, is also reported and a new species described as S. occidentalis sp. n. after two workers remarkably preserved in a single piece of Early Cenomanian French amber. The new fossils provide additional information on early ant diversity and relationships and demonstrate that the monophyly of the Sphecomyrminae, as currently defined, is still weakly supported.

Cretaceous ants: here.

Harvester ants: here.

The Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, is one of the most successful invasive species in the world, having colonized parts of five continents in addition to its native range in South America: here.

Anthill in Texel museum: here.


8 thoughts on “Fossil ants discovered in French Cretaceous amber

  1. Could insects have devastated dinosaurs?

    Gazette-Times reporter

    Amber-trapped beetle shows chemical warfare 100 million years ago

    Tyrannosaurus rex wasn’t the only killer walking the Earth 100 million years ago.

    Bugs infected with diseases and parasites could have devastated dinosaur populations, and insects also impacted plant food sources, according to an upcoming book by Corvallis scientists George Poinar Jr. and Roberta Poinar, whose research served as the inspiration for “Jurassic Park.”

    “What Bugged the Dinosaurs” will be released in January. The book is being published by Princeton University Press.

    “We think insects played an important role in determining the fate of the dinosaurs, and a lot of people haven’t considered that yet,” said George Poinar Jr., a zoology researcher at Oregon State University, and one of the world’s foremost experts on organisms trapped in amber.

    John Ruben, chairman of OSU’s zoology department, said he wasn’t sure his colleague was on the right track, but didn’t discount his suggestion entirely.

    “I don’t know of any particular evidence that would point to a link,” said Ruben who teaches dinosaur biology. “It was probably a lot of things working together to cause their extinction. … Extinctions are very complicated. We don’t know why animals that lived at the same time people lived went extinct. Dinosaur extinction, we’re talking about 65 million years ago.”

    Poinar said bug problems were just one factor in the extinction of dinosaurs. Combined with climate change, ocean regressions and volcanic activity, insects may have led to the end of the prehistoric giants.

    Even 100 million years ago, bugs were pests. Poinar studied bugs trapped in amber that bore diseases and even pathogens from cold-blooded vertebrates. And some of those vertebrates likely were dinosaurs, he said.

    Poinar also said that insects also would have competed for the same plant food sources, and led to the rise of flowering plants, which pushed aside species such as ferns that some dinosaurs relied on.

    Ruben said many dinosaurs flourished after the rise of flowering plants, however. “There’s no evidence that dinosaurs were dying from disease based on the bones,” he said.

    Poinar, 71, is a courtesy professor at OSU. He isn’t paid, but he is a member of the zoology department and gets to use OSU facilities for his research.

    He’s been studying amber for about 30 years, and he and his wife have worked on two previous books about the orange, often translucent substance, and he also wrote another book solo.

    In a separate development, Poinar and OSU researchers recently identified a soldier beetle, preserved almost perfectly in amber, that was using chemical repellents to fight off an attacker when an oozing flow of sap engulfed it.

    “This was a really interesting find, because it not only doubled the age of this particular group of beetles, but it showed that insects had already developed chemical warfare 100 million years ago,” Poinar said.

    The findings were just published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology.

    “We’re investigating the ancient life, what the ancient ecosystem was like, by looking at various bugs and flowers from various parts of the world,” Poinar said.

    Kyle Odegard covers Oregon State University. He can be contacted at or 758-9523.


  2. New Species Found In Fossil Purchased On eBay

    Posted on: Thursday, 21 August 2008, 12:40 CDT

    When Dr. Richard Harrington purchased a fossilized insect on the Web auction site eBay for £20, he was surprised to find that it contained the remains of a previously unknown species of aphid.

    After vice-president of the UK’s Royal Entomological Society purchased the fossil from a seller in Lithuania he sent it to an aphid expert in Denmark.

    The expert, Professor Ole Heie, confirmed that the insect was in fact a new species, named Mindarus harringtoni after the scientist.

    “He discovered that it was something that hadn’t been described before,” Dr Harrington explained.

    “I had thought it would be rather nice to call it Mindarus ebayi.”

    “Unfortunately using flippant names to describe new species is rather frowned upon these days.”

    The insect itself is 3-4mm long and is encased in a 40-50 million-year-old piece of amber about the size of a small pill.

    “I was interested to see what it was because I’ve worked with a team of people involved in monitoring and forecasting aphids, those of greenfly and their relatives in this country,” Dr Harrington said.

    “I looked at it with my team and we thought we could identify it down to the level of genus, but we had no idea what the species was.”

    “It’s not uncommon to find insects in amber… but I’m not sure that one has turned up on eBay that has been undiscovered before. It’s a rather unusual route to come by [a new species],” said Professor Ole Heie, based at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire.


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