AsianScientist (Jul. 29, 2016) – The dragons from Game of Thrones have come to life—in insect form. Inspired by the popular HBO fantasy series, researchers have named two recently discovered ant species Pheinole drogon and Pheinole viserion for their dragon-like spines.
In the journal PLOS ONE, researchers Dr. Georg Fischer, Dr. Eli Sarnat and Professor Evan Economo from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) describe how they used new 3D imaging technology called X-ray microtomography to identify and document several new ant species from the tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
“This is one of the first studies in ant taxonomy to use micro-CT,” said Economo, who is the head of OIST’s Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit. “While this method is gaining popularity in different scientific fields, it is rare to use it in this way.”
X-ray microtomography is similar to CT scans used in hospitals but at a much higher resolution suitable for smaller objects. Once an ant is scanned using this method, it becomes a virtual specimen that ‘lives’ in 3D; it can then be dissected, archived, and shared with other scientists around the world. Economo added that this is almost the same as having the physical specimen in front of you and in some ways it is “better than the real thing,” because you can virtually dissect the specimen and examine internal structure on your computer.
The researchers also took advantage of the new 3D imaging technique to look inside the spines of the major worker ants for clues to their function. While the most obvious function of the spines is for defense against predators, the researchers additionally found that the spines were filled with muscle, which may make the ants stronger and more robust relative to non-spiny ants.
The article can be found at: Sarnat et al. (2016) Inordinate Spinescence: Taxonomic Revision and Microtomography of the Pheidole cervicornis Species Group (Hymenoptera, Formicidae).
Source: Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University.
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