Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

Rare 'T Rex' ants seen live for first time

Rare 'T Rex' ants seen live for first time

National Geographic Young Explorer and entomologist Mark Wong and his colleague Gordon Yong, an entomologist at the National University of Singapore (NUS), stumbled across the first recorded live colony of Tyrannomyrmex rex (T. rex) ants in March 2016 while surveying the forested Mandai area, said the May 16 report. The ants can, however, turn to cannibalism in times of need.

And Wong and Yong have naturally returned to the area in a bid to find more of them, but have yet to succeed in the repeat endeavour.

The ants also refused any of the foods offered to them, so what they survive on in the wild remains a mystery.

Named after the huge carnivorous dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex, T. rex ants has previously eluded scientists, with only a handful of deceased ants found since 2003, according to National Geographic. When faced with a threat, the ants curl up and freeze instead of fighting.

Below is the footage of the ants that Wong has provided to National Geographic.

Since them, a few other Tyrannomyrmex ants have been found in India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and probably the Philippines - but all of them have been found dead. According to Fernández, that's because its tiny mandibles resemble the stubby arms of the more well-known T-rex, and according to Wong, it has its name also because of its pointed snout.

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There's of course plenty more to find out about the ants and their habitat, which Wong noted has not been sufficiently studied - pieces of moist, rotting wood submerged in soil.

What they discovered goes some way to explain why they have remained so elusive. Only one specimen of the species had been collected by scientists.

By setting up artificial colonies, the researchers were able to test their reactions to a range of stimuli. They are not aggressive.

The creature crawled over a number of curled up worker ants, before one plucky individual stung the millipede, forcing it to retreat.

But unlike the dinosaur it was named after, these ants demonstrated a "timid" behaviour during the entomologists' experiments. We don't know why they lack the metapleural glands of other ants, which normally create antiseptic compounds that help ants stay clean.

The researchers now hope to study the creatures in more detail.

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