Two new ant species were discovered by researchers from the from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). Due to their dragon-like appearance, the team named these Pheidole drogon and Pheidole viserion after Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons in the epic fantasy series Game of Thrones.
The ants, from Papua New Guinea cannot breathe fire but they have spiny characteristics just like the dragons. The jet-black color of P. drogon and cream of P. viserion also resembled the colors of Drogon and Viserion.
The study, published in PLOS ONE, involved the use of 3D imaging called X-Ray microtomography to analyze the ants. Interestingly, this is one of the first studies to use this technology.
The spines are used for defence against predators. The muscles in and under these spines are believed to help make the ants stronger.
“In all likelihood, the spines serve as a kind of defensive mechanism, but one problem is how they evolved in the first place. A little spine won’t help as a defence mechanism. So there could have been another use that would have given them an advantage when they were little,” points out researcher Eli Sarnat, the Guardian reports. “The spines in the back do not have any muscles like the shoulders, so [shoulder] spines might be important as a skeleto-muscular support mechanism for the head in soldiers.”
The Pheidole ants have queens and minor workers. Like other ant species, they also have major workers who act as soldiers, protecting their population.
The soldiers sport large heads and big mandibles. These heads are practical in lifting heavy items and the mandibles are used to crush and open the seed that the minor workers cannot handle.
The team admits more investigations are still needed to determine how the spines and muscles evolved. Sarnat notes that his wife was upset with the Game of Thrones character names but he assures her that she can name the next ant species discovered.