If you are a ‘Game of Thrones’ fan, the names Pheidole drogon and Pheidole viserion must be familiar to you, evoking the images of those cool huge dragons of Daenerys Targaryen. Well, you might now surprisingly find these scientists share your passion, and in fact dragons’ name can perfectly fit shy little creatures too!
Published in PLOS One with a title of ‘Inordinate Spinescence’, a paper introduced Pheidole drogon and Pheidole viserion as two recent-discovered spiny ant species from Papua New Guinea which own some of the most impressive spikes among the Antarctica wide-spread Pheidole genus of ants.
Alike to other Pheidole ants, the Pheidole Drogon species has different “caste” of worker ants. While the major ants here relatively enormous heads and the minor workers stretch long spines, described by Eli Sarnat and his colleagues at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.
Despite the fearsome appearance that gives them the name, these jet-black major workers ants who are responsible for chomping into thick seeds are actually very shy. According to Sarnat, they are often the first to run away and hide while the cream-and-gold minor workers take most of the work of maintaining the nest and raising the young.
Scientists are quite interested in the usage of the unusual spines, and they believe they are not simply for defense. Sarnart told the Guardian that, “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.”
Well, maybe the major workers crack the seeds exactly like the Drogon might crack open the armor of a Westerosi knight. At least the researchers are think so.“We thought it would be a little more fun”Sarnat explained.
It is said that the vast majority of Pheidole are still undiscovered. “If you are working in the bush in Africa and find an ant that you want to identify, it is really difficult to fly all the way to a museum in Europe or the U.S. to see collections of already known species,” Georg Fischer, a co-author on the paper said. “This way you can download the virtual ant, make measurements, and compare it to the specimen you are trying to identify.”
They are so special and James Traniello of Boston University described them as amazing and absolutely beautiful. After the discoveries of over 1000 species of Pheidole so far, people are still endeavor to figure out what has made them so successfully at adapting to different environments.
Anyway, if you find a new species accidentally, consider calling it Rhaegal or Viseryon. That would make the series complete. Do match the color though.