> Giant fossil ants linked to global warming

Giant fossil ants linked to global warming

Document Tools

Print This Page

Email This Page

Font Size
S      M      L      XL

Related Links

Bruce Archibald, Vancouver resident, 778.782.4458, sba48@sfu.ca
Rolf Mathewes, Maple Ridge resident, 778.782.4472, mathewes@sfu.ca
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035, cthorbes@sfu.ca

May 3, 2011

Four paleontologists, including two at Simon Fraser University, have discovered the fossil of a gigantic ant whose globetrotting sheds light on how global warming events affected the distribution of life some 50 million years ago.

The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a British scientific journal, has published online today (May 4) their study Intercontinental dispersal of giant thermophilic ants across the Arctic during early Eocene hyperthermals.

The authors are Bruce Archibald and Rolf Mathewes from SFU (British Columbia, Canada), David Greenwood from Brandon University (Manitoba, Canada) and Kirk Johnson from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (Colorado, USA).

They describe a new fossil species of giant ant, which they’ve named Titanomyrma lubei. This winged queen ant lived in the Eocene Epoch about 50 million years ago. It had a body just over five centimetres long — comparable to a hummingbird — a size only rivaled today by the monstrously large queens of an ant species in tropical Africa.

Archibald found the ant in a drawer when visiting Johnson at the Denver Museum. He says: “What is surprising is that this ant scurried about an ancient forest in what is now Wyoming when the climate there was hot like the modern tropics. In fact, all of the closely related fossil giant ants have been found in Europe and North America at sites that had hot climates.”

The researchers also looked at the habitats of the largest modern ants, and found that almost all live in the tropics, indicating that there might be something about being big that requires ants to live in hot temperatures.

During the Eocene Epoch, many plants and animal species migrated between Europe and North America via continuous land across the Arctic, bridging the two continents. But the mystery is how did these ancient giant ants pass through a temperate Arctic climate — too cool for them?

The researchers suspect that the key is in the brief, but intense episodes of global warming that happened around this time. They appear to have created periodic opportunities for hot climate life to pass between continents through the Arctic. Archibald calls them brief openings of a physiological gate to cross the physical land bridge.

He notes that these findings will help scientists gain a better grasp of the impacts of global warming on life. He says: “As the Earth’s climate changes, we are seeing tropical pest species extend their ranges into mid-latitudes and dragonflies appear in the Arctic. Understanding the details of how life forms adapted to global warming in the past will be of increasing importance in the future.”

— 30 —


Comment Guidelines

Robert De Leon

Hi, I once saw a giant bug, possibly an ant back in the summer of 1977-79. I was in a small resort called Goggoron in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The resort is close to some mountains and has or had a few swimming pools of various depths. I was in the largest pool (the second deepest) by myself and I saw the insect on the pool's edge just above a water pipe. I am not sure if it was trying to go into the pipe or just trying to get water. I freaked out (I was like 7 at the time) and waddled to the opposite side of the pool to get out and tell to someone. By the time I had returned that bug was gone. What I remember about the bug was that its head was probably as wide as a golf ball but not as tall. It was sort was flatten. Also in the intense sunlight, the bug looked like a dark violet color. It was probably was as big as a man's hand, from the tip of your finger to the end of your palm. It looked like it could fit its head through the pipe, but not its legs.

I am a System Engineer, build Linux servers and have a pretty good memory.