Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Dragon ants are coming: New 'Game of Thrones' species identified

Modern technology helps taxonomy to identify new ant species.

Date: July 27, 2016
Source: Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University

The dragons from 'Game of Thrones' have come to life in insect form. New ant species that appear dragon-like due to their large and distinctive spines were recently found in the tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea. Although they lack fire-breathing capabilities, the unique, spiny characteristics of the ants reminded the scientists who discovered them of the mythical dragons from the fantasy series and inspired them to name the ants after the 'Game of Thrones' dragons.

The researchers, Dr. Georg Fischer, Dr. Eli Sarnat, and Prof. Evan Economo from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), used cutting-edge 3D-imaging technology to help identify and document several new ant species in two different papers published in PLOS ONE.

The process of identifying, documenting, and naming new species, "taxonomy" is one of the oldest and most basic tasks in biology. Traditionally, new species are described with photographs, drawings, and verbal descriptions. In this study, the authors used new 3D imaging technology called X-Ray microtomography, which is similar to CT scans used in hospitals, only at a much higher resolution suitable for smaller objects, such as an ant.

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