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Terrifying Looking T.Rex Ants Actually Total Wimps

Gordon Yong, Insect Diversity Lab, National University of Singapore
Gordon Yong, Insect Diversity Lab, National University of Singapore

There are a lot of silly ways you can name a new species—maybe after a boat, or the President, or the sound you made when you found it. But this little ant probably received one of the most badass names possible: Tyrannomyrmex rex, T. rex for short.

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Singaporean scientists recently spotted a colony of these ants for the first time in the wild. But despite their new name, the ants’ shy nature makes them decidedly un-T. rex like.

“I...find their shy nature ironic and amusing,” study author Mark Wong from the National Parks Board at the Singapore Botanic Gardens told Gizmodo in an email. “Tyrannomyrmex would actually translate into “tyrant ant” (Tyranno is Latin for “tyrant”; myrmex is Greek for “ant”), but it soon became clear these ants aren’t in any way tyrants, in fact quite the opposite if you look at how they “freeze up” when other organisms come close, and quickly run away after.”

The researchers found the colony of about 30 little T.rex in March, 2016, in a Singaporean forest under a leaf. The colony’s location immediately shattered previous assumptions about the ants, since scientists originally thought the T. rex would only appear in “pristine or undisturbed forests.” They found these ants in a military training area near some trash.

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But the ants surprised Wong in a more significant way. Most ants groom themselves with an antiseptic secretion so they don’t get the rest of their colony sick. These shy crawlers, however, do not, despite the fact they are presumably living in environments full of harmful bacteria. “So Tyrannomyrmex hygiene remains a little mystery,” said Wong.

The ants probably aren’t as rare as scientists think. They live in small colonies in habitats scientists don’t often sample, they’re probably nocturnal, and they’re picky eaters. All of those factors combined means they’ve probably just been really good at eluding our detection.

So remember, just because you’re a human doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about the world. There could be a whole colony of rare ants sitting beneath a food wrapper you tossed on the floor.

[Asian Myrmecology via Live Science]

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Science Writer, Founder of Birdmodo

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DISCUSSION

There is more biomass of living ants than there has ever been of humans throughout the entire history of mankind. By at least an order of magnitude. Anyone looking at earth based on its biosignature, would think it was all plants and insects. So if you need a reason why aliens might ignore our world - and be the paradox in fermi’s equation - this is as plausable a reason as any. Our world just isn’t important to anyone but us.