Yesterday, Antweb posted its first images of Anomalomyrma workers, and I’ve been staring at them ever since.
This is a strange ant indeed, a member of the ancient subfamily Leptanillinae that is potentially a sister lineage to the remaining extant ants. It’s ostensibly a subterranean predator in the forests of tropical Asia, but beyond that little is known. The number of times Anomalomyrma has been collected can probably be counted on my fingers.
Here’s a pic:
Call me crazy, but the shape of this thing puts me in mind of another ant oddity: Martialis heureka:
Martialis was discovered in the Amazonian rainforest a couple years ago to much fanfare, as preliminary genetic work placed it as the sister to remaining ants. Consider the following similarities to Anomalomyrma, though:
- The configuration of muscular forelegs and wimpy mid- and hind-legs. While ant fore femora are often a bit more developed than their serial homologs, the extent of the difference is more severe in both Martialis and Anomalomyrma than in other ants.
- The broad attachment of abdominal segment 3 (the post-petiole) to abdominal segment 4 (the “gaster”).
- The relatively long mandibles. More developed in Martialis than Anomalomyrma, but still longer than in most ants.
Add in that both ants are eyeless in the worker caste and have long, predatory stingers and that’s… well, I don’t know what that is. But it’s intriguing. Either the two ants are more closely related than we’d thought (Anomalomyrma DNA sequence has not yet been published, although other Leptanillines show no obvious genetic ties to Martialis), or they’ve developed a remarkable convergence.
Because of similarities in body proportion and structure, you can bet that the species share a number of biomechanical properties. The way they hold captured prey and use the sting, in particular, must be nearly identical. These ants may well be playing the same game, ecologically, mirrored across continents in the Amazon and in southeast Asia.
Unfortunately, dead specimens are all we have to go on. The rarity of both ants may doom us to decades of ignorance before someone finds live colonies for study. Assuming the forests can hold on that long, of course.