Freaky 'Leptanilla voldemort' ant earns its name in the darkness

Freaky 'Leptanilla voldemort' ant earns its name in the darkness
By: New Atlas Posted On: April 15, 2024 View: 23

A newly discovered ant has been aptly named after the creepiest of all Harry Potter villains, Lord Voldemort. Like the lord, the ant is pale, slender, and it lives in the dark – unlike Mr. Voldemort, however, the ant did not give young Harry his lightning-bolt forehead scar.

Officially named Leptanilla voldemort, the insect was recently discovered in the arid Pilbara region of northwestern Australia.

A University of Western Australia team led by Dr. Mark Wong started out by drilling a 25-meter (82-ft)-deep borehole into the soil, then subsequently lowered a net to the bottom of that hole. The scientists then slowly retrieved the net, allowing it to scrape the walls of the hole on the way back up.

Utilizing this technique, which is known as "subterranean scraping," the researchers were able to collect just a couple of the ants. As compared to other members of the Leptanilla ant species, the two individuals have extremely slender bodies along with very spindly antennae and legs.

One of the Leptanilla voldemort specimens, with its presumably prey-seizing jaws
One of the Leptanilla voldemort specimens, with its presumably prey-seizing jaws

Pensoft Publishers

Like other Leptanilla ants, though, the collected L. voldemorts are just 1 to 2 mm long, plus they're pale-colored and blind. The latter characteristic is due the fact that unlike most other ants, Leptanilla spend their entire lives underground.

And whereas other Leptanillas live right in the soil itself, the slender build of L. voldemart has the scientists wondering if they might live in air pockets or cracks within rocks. Whatever the case may be, they're definitely not vegetarians.

"Leptanilla voldemort is almost surely a predator, a fearsome hunter in the dark," said Wong. "This is backed up by what we know from the few observations of specialized hunting behaviours in other Leptanilla ant species, where the tiny workers use their sharp jaws and powerful stings to immobilize soil-dwelling centipedes much larger than them, before carrying their larvae over to feed on the carcass."

A paper on the study, which was co-authored by taxonomist Jane McRae of Bennelongia Environmental Consultants, has been published in the journal ZooKeys.

Source: Pensoft Publishers

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