Nightmarish “supersoldier” ants with huge heads and jaws have been created by scientists, though it’s unlikely they’ll be taking over the world anytime soon.
Rather, the monsterous ants may be a genetic throwback to an ancestor that lived millions of years ago.
Scientists created the ants by activating ancient genes that trigger their development. They showed that ordinary ants of the species Pheidole morrisi contain all the genetic tools needed to turn them into supersoldiers.
By dabbing their larvae with a special hormone, they were able to induce the development of “supersoldiers” instead of normal worker and soldier ants.
Supersoldier ants can occur naturally in the wild, but only rarely. In the deserts of America and Mexico, their job is to protect the colony from raids by invading army ants.
The supersoldiers use their enormous heads to block the nest entrance and attack any enemy ants that get too close.
Scientists in Canada created the monster ants in the laboratory by activating the ancient ancestral genes.
Authors Dr Rajendhran Rajakumar, from McGill University, Canada, and colleagues wrote: “We uncovered an ancestral development potential to produce a novel supersoldier sub-caste that has been retained throughout a hyperdiverse ant
genus that evolved 35 to 60 million years ago.”
The results suggest that holding on to ancestral development toolkits may play an important role in evolving new physical traits, say the researchers. The results also suggest that science can be awesome.