With a name so closely resembling the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex, most would expect the Tyrannomyrmex rex to be just as big or carnivorous ants. However, a new study goes to contradict this as it offers data obtained from observations of the species in the wild. This is quite an event in itself as the so-called ‘T-rex ant’ had never before been spotted alive in nature.
Tyrannomyrmex rex are Shy, but Can Nonetheless Turn Cannibal if Needed
According to this new research, the Tyrannomyrmex rex is a rare species of Asian ants. The study found them to be quite picky eaters, but also a shy species. Researchers have known about their existence for over 20 years. Still, only a single specimen of the species was ever collected and no long-term observations of their behavior in the wild recorded.
Mark Wong was conducting a survey of the ant diversity in Singapore when he discovered a colony of live Tyrannomyrmex rex. Together with a colleague from the National University of Singapore, they gathered the colony and continued studying it.
The researchers noted that it contained 13 worker ants, and also pupae, larvae, and eggs. It was a small colony, unobtrusive and subterranean.
Still, the researchers gathered a fair share of information thanks to their observations of this colony. The Tyrannomyrmex rex seems to be a nocturnal species as its specimens were most active during the night hours. They exhibited no aggressive behavior, even in the face of danger. As they were exposed to a millipede, the ants “froze” and “curled up”, most likely expecting this to overlook and pass them.
The research team was unable to determine their diet, despite presenting the ‘T-rex’ with many various choices. Still, the scientists did observe an example of cannibalism as the ants ate a male pupa after it emerged as an adult.
“The colony is one big organism, and this is one way in which it channels resources from some biological functions [in this case, reproduction] to others, based on which are deemed important in the prevailing environmental conditions,” said Wong.
The researchers will continue studying the ants and are hoping to find more live colonies. The team published its current research results in the journal Asian Myrmecology.
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