Ant from dinosaur age discovered in Ethiopia


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From the New York Times in the USA:

African Fossil Changes Ideas of Ant Origins

By SINDYA N. BHANOO

Published: April 5, 2010

The first fossil ant from Africa, found in amber dating back 95 million years, challenges a previously held theory that ants originated in North America or East Asia.

The finding is part of a larger study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identifying 28 fossilized insects, one spider and one mite, as well as a variety of flora all trapped in amber from Ethiopia.

The insects, the oldest that have been identified in Africa, are from the Cretaceous. There are also numerous fungi, ferns and spores that were previously unknown to paleontologists.

Until now, paleontologists had assumed that ants originated in North America or South Asia, because the only known fossils were from these regions, said Alexander Schmidt, the paper’s lead author and a biologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany.

He and his colleagues are convinced that further analysis will reveal more about the evolution of the ants and how the Ethiopian ant is biologically related to Cretaceous ants of the Northern Hemisphere.

New insect species discovered: here.

Fossil reveals 48-million-year history of zombie ants: here.

Ethiopia: Evidence of Mammals and Legumes, 22 Million Years Old: here.

3 thoughts on “Ant from dinosaur age discovered in Ethiopia

  1. Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

    Ethiopia: Africa’s Oldest Park in Addis Abeba’s Backyard

    Hans Larson

    13 April 2010

    Mt. Damocha is like a mini version of the Bale Mountains, but it is so close to Addis Abeba that many people look at it everyday, without knowing what it really is or that there is even a natural park there.

    In fact, the other reason it should be well known is that it is the oldest park in Africa. It is older than the parks set up to protect Egypt’s historical sites. It is older than Virunga National Park (formerly Albert National Park) established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park. It is older than the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa, established in 1895, as the oldest game park in Africa.

    In fact, it dates back to the reign of Emperor Zera Yacob, from 1434 to 1468, when he first designated it as a “crown forest.” At that time, the area was planted with seedlings of junipers taken from the Wef-Washa Forest found around Ankober and Debre Sina, about 190km north of Addis Abeba.

    Its management was just recently transferred from the Federal Government to the Oromia Regional State, changing its name from the Menagesha-Suba Forest Development Centre to the Finfine Forest Enterprise, Suba-Sebeta Forest Area Office.

    Like the Bale Mountains, the lower slopes of the mountain are covered with plantation forests. These forests include many different types of trees from Pinus Radiata (an evergreen tree with long needles from the Western US) all the way to the notorious bahar zaf (eucalyptus).

    But just as with parts of the Bale Mountains, the tree plantations form a buffer zone for its natural forest, higher up the mountainside, featuring a wide variety of native tree species. Native trees include zigba, wanza, grar, and tid among others.

    While the plantation areas are largely devoid of undergrowth, these natural areas of forest are rich with many different types of smaller trees, bushes, shrubs, groundcovers, and flowers. During a short period this time of year, there are big red onion-like flowers that grow from a single stem protruding from a bulb. At the top of the mountain are medicinal red-hot poker flowers, also a common sight in the Bale Mountains.

    The multiple layers provide a rich habitat for many animals including the endemic Menelik’s bushbuck, anubis baboon, guereza (colobus monkey), bush pig, warthog, leopard, and serval cat, for example. At the top of the mountain are what look like burrows of the giant mole rat, also common in the Bale Mountains and one of the main food sources of the key kebero (red Ethiopian wolf, often mistakenly called a fox due to its colour). Many different types of birds including endemics and semi-endemics can also be seen.

    Anubis baboons come to the headquarters and sleep in the Pinus Radiata trees nearby at night. Sometimes raging troops of guereza or timid herds of Menelik’s bushbuck also invade the office area but can otherwise be seen where streams cross the forest roads.

    From Addis Abeba the park can be accessed from the town of Sebeta, in the Oromia Special Zone, just outside of the capital. There are many minibuses, midi buses, and large buses that pass through the town, many on the way to Jimma, which can drop passengers off in sebeta at the turnoff for the road to Suba, a village on the edge of the forest.

    The cheapest public transport must be Anbessa City Bus 62, which costs only three Birr from the city centre.

    The road to Sebeta is a bit crowded for bicycling, but at least it is flat.

    A sign for the park marks the road to Suba just beyond Bus 62’s last stop on the right-hand side of the road. It is a one and a half metre by three metre, new, green sign with the above name of the park written in red, white, and black (the colours of the flag of the Oromia Regional State) in three languages with the words “The Oldest Park in Africa” written at the bottom in yellow.

    As the sign shows, the road to Suba is a left-hand turn 300 metres down a right-hand turn on a small paved side road off the road to Jimma. It is a 17km trek to Suba from there. (Always ask multiple people for directions, just to make sure.)

    Otherwise, one can take a gari (horse drawn cart) or possibly a three-wheeler, such as one of the many Bajaj’s that ply Sebeta’s road. Of course, one can always take the risk of hitching a ride, too. Alternatively, if a personal vehicle or even a bicycle is used, the gravel road is relatively good for either.

    The park can even be accessed from Ambo Road on the other side of the mountain, but there is no sign for the park. The dirt road from Menagesha Town on Ambo Road has a downed bridge, but there is another road from Holetta Town, just beyond the farmed valley after Menagesha on the road to Ambo. It has a well-maintained gravel road that goes past the greenhouses of a large flower farm.

    The turnoff from Ambo Road in Holeta is marked by a sign for an agricultural research centre on the left side of the road just after the newly paved road on the right-hand side that leads to Mugher Cement Factory. It starts out paved as well.

    Similarly to the road from Sebeta, it is also about 17km to Suba from that side. If Ambo Road is accessed from the current end of the Ring Road, there is a gradual incline leading to the Gefersa Water Reservoir. The road around the reservoir is so quiet, shady, and flat that it is worth going there for a bicycle ride or walk without even going any farther.

    No matter which route is taken, once Suba is reached, it is a pleasant jaunt through the forest, up a newly graded dirt road to the forest enterprise office.

    There are shared dormitories for about 35 Br, which are often empty anyway, and guesthouses complete with salons and kitchens for about 80 Br. The park entrance fee is about 75 Br. Guides are paid meagre salaries and, as such, are free, according to Tigist Mabratu, district office collector. However, tips or a shared meal will be greatly appreciated.

    Above the main office, the road leads past a nice campsite surrounded by towering tid zaf (native juniper), with a shelter, fire pit, and (soon) a composting toilet. Shortly thereafter, it branches, with one long road leading to a modest six metre waterfall that mainly runs during kremt (the main wet season), where yellow fronted parrots can be seen. During belg (the short rains), such as now, it is little more than a pleasant, peaceful trickle.

    The other main forest road leads to the upper edge of the forest, where there is an exhibition centre and a safely guarded place to park vehicles in the shade during treks to the 3385 metre summit of Mt. Damocha.

    Just above the exhibition centre, the forest ends with farms that accompany trekkers all the way to the top of the mountain. However, as elevation is gained, the trees dotted here and there (mostly native junipers) get smaller and smaller until one can assume that they are above not just the artificial tree line created by the farms, but the natural tree line as well. The forest enterprise is expanding the forest uphill, but the top of the mountain is far above any of the plantations and provides a climate so cold and windy that trees could barely be grown there at all, anyway.

    The mountain is shaped like an eroded volcanic crater with a jagged rim surrounding the valley floor far below. There is no crater lake as with Mt. Zequalla or Wenchi, as the valley features a drainage stream that comes out just to the right of the exhibition centre and provides an easy, well-worn route past the lower peaks that hide the real summit (from the vantage point of the park). This trail ends at a tiny mountain village and, unfortunately, the hike to the summit from there is steep and lacks a well-worn trail.

    The other option is to head left up the outer wall of the crater. Though, this may entail a bit of up and down along the ridge of the crater before the true summit is reached. Another benefit of taking the latter route is that it leads past some of the last remaining patches of giant heather trees as well as beautiful clear blue tarns.

    The summit is very windy and is especially cold if there is any cloud cover, whatsoever. The billowing clouds stream right up and over the top of the mountain from below, due to the fact that the mountain is so high. The scenes created are similar to those of the Bale and Simien Mountains.

    If the clouds let up, a view of Addis Abeba can be seen. If fact, one return option is to simply walk down the mountain towards the edge of the city, only 13km away. This could also be done in reverse and would eliminate many costs.

    Whatever route is taken, be sure to bring at least two litres of water and warm clothes for the summit. The forest office also has soda and beer but no food. The stream at the bottom of the crater is usually clear, but should be filtered or treated, before drinking due to the farming communities located above it.

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  2. Pingback: ‘Extinct’ Ethiopian lark rediscovered? | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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