A Princeton resident has discovered the fossil of an ancient giant ant in the nearby Allenby Formation, a rock formation that contains many plant and animal fossils.
Researchers say it is the first known Canadian specimen of the genus”titanomyrm,meaning “Titanic Ant”.
Scientists estimate that the gargantuan insects lived around 50 million years ago and were perhaps around half a foot long.
Dr Bruce Archibald is a paleoentomologist at Simon Fraser University and first discovered a similar specimen in 2010 in Wyoming, but says he was thrilled when another fossil of the massive insect turned up in Columbia. British.
“Extremely large ants are mostly known from Germany and Wyoming. And so I found one of these ants in a Denver museum drawer around 2010 and wrote it down in 2011. And it caused a stir, and we understood that we were mainly working on the biogeography of that.
As a result of this study, Dr. Archibald and his colleagues sought to answer the next crucial question.
“How did it cross continents and suddenly become in both places at the same time?”
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Building on previous research from 2011, scientists found that the largest ants lived in places with warm temperatures.
While Germany and Wyoming are relatively temperate now, when these ants were there, temperatures were similar to tropical regions today.
In addition to this, Archibald says the continents were more connected at the time and would have allowed greater ease of access over land.
“At that time, the North Atlantic couldn’t open up by continental movement. And so, there was continuous land from Vancouver to Frankfurt and there were forests; it wasn’t that cold,” explained Archibald.
The researchers also hypothesize that a brief period of global warming called “hyperthermic”, allowed the ants to travel to higher temperatures.
This new discovery at Princeton complicated matters since previous theories believed such a large ant could not survive in what is now interior British Columbia.
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Dr Archibald says researchers may need to reconsider their ideas about the climate tolerance of giant ants if the specimen is, in fact, comparable in size to other specimens found previously.
“So if it’s a small ant, then we were probably right in our idea in 2011, and those ants needed to shrink in size, in order to live in a cooler climate. If it’s a big one and we are mistaken we need to rethink what we think about the ecology of these giant ants so maybe they could across the north cross the arctic at any time and they don’t like the heat at all .Maybe they just hate winter”
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For more information on this study, Dr. Archibald is also hosting a talk at UBC’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum on March 16 at 6 p.m.
The conference will cover fossilized insects around British Columbia and what they can do to inform people about global biodiversity.
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