The research team made a 3D scan of the ants to find out the purpose of their spines.
Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons on the hit show Game of Thrones are pretty menacing but a new species of ant with spikes protruding from their backs reminded scientists of the dragons featured on the TV show and decided to name them ‘Pheidole drogon’ and ‘Pheidole viserion’.
But unlike the dragons, who use their spikes for protection, the researchers involved in the ant study believe the ants use the spikes for a whole other reason.
These particular ants are known as major workers and their role is to predominantly do jobs that the minor workers can’t cope with such as breaking up challenging food resources. As a result of this, they have unusually large heads that contain and support their big jaws.
Study author, Eli Sarnat started thinking outside the box and hypothesised that the spikes may have something to do with extra muscle resources to support the large head of the ant.
The team made a 3D scan of the ant to avoid dissection and discovered the hypothesis was right – the spines directly next to the head contained supporting muscles. However, Sarnat believes the spikes could also help in protecting the ants from predators too.
“Certainly it seems that over time these spines did develop to help against predation, but it could’ve been a scenario where they first evolved as adaptations for head support and then once they existed, they got kind of co-opted for defense against predators.”
So who thought up the Game of Thrones reference? Well that was down to another member of the research team – Evan Economo who is a massive fan of the popular series – suggesting naming one of the ants ‘drogon’ due to it’s jet black and spiky appearance. It then seemed the obvious choice to name the gold species ‘viserion’
“Since we are all big fans of the books and the series, we thought it’d be a fitting tribute,” stated Economo in correspondence with Christian Science Monitor.
The paper was published in the journal PLOS One.