Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rise of the Super Ants!

(Regular ant on left. Super soldier ant on right.)


If you read comic books or watched the Captain America movie, you're familiar with the term 'super soldier.'  A super soldier is designed to be stronger and faster than regular soldiers, and is usually brought about in fiction through some formula or scientific process.

But in the ant kingdom, ants have the potential to build super soldiers built right into their genetic structure.

There are 12,000 species of ants, and at least 1,000 of these have the DNA necessary to produce super soldiers, yet scientists have only found 8 species that actually do.

Rajee Rajakumar of Montreal's McGill University found a colony of ants on Long Island, New York, containing super soldiers.  Normally, the supers are only found in northern Mexico and the neighboring American southwest.  Naturally, this made Rajakumar wonder how the ants created super soldiers and why?

Further research revealed that many species of ants possess the potential for super soldiers, not just the few that actually produce them.  This genetic code goes back to ants living 35 to 65 million years ago--ants that are the predecessors of modern ants.

Ming Huang of the University of Arizona believes environment plays a key role in whether an ant colony produces super soldiers.  Ants that are able to sufficiently defend their colony wouldn't need supers, and some ants have learned to simply move their colony farther from rival ants and avoid warfare.  But colonies that are hard pressed may still be able to call up that ancient genetic code for super soldiers.

In the lab, Rajakumar applied a specific hormone to ants still developing in their larvae stage.  This hormone spurred a growth spurt in the ants that produced giant warriors with massive heads useful for plugging a tunnel entrance against attack by other ants or insects.

Of course you wouldn't want one of these super ants to sting you.  In fact, the Schmidt Pain Scale of Insect Stings may need to be adjusted for these creatures.  While the Bullet Ant currently occupies the top of the 0 to 4 scale with a rating of 4.0+ and a duration of 12 to 24 hours of pain, I wonder how a Super Bullet Ant bite would feel?

I also wonder, if ants have this potential locked in their genes, what might humans and other animals carry in their DNA?

(The main source was this article from Popular Mechanics.  The Weird Animal Report taught me about the Schmidt index, along with the hilariousdescriptions found here.  The pic is from Gizmodo.)

2 comments:

  1. Thanks, Elaine! Those Bullet Ants will have to make an appearance in one of my stories some day.

    ReplyDelete