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American Museum Of Natural History Researchers Announce Discovery Of Oldest Known Fossil Ants - 92-Million-Year-Old Fossils Found In New Jersey Amber

new fossil ant in amber resolves the debate over the identity of this ancient insect. Of the remaining fossil ants, two of the males are a new species of Baikuris (which previously had only been found in Siberian amber), a third male is from an undetermined genus, and the fourth male may be a Sphecomyrma freyi and would therefore be the first known male of this group. The two other workers represent a new genus that is much more advanced than Sphecomyrma, and is related to a group of ants, the subfamily Ponerinae, that are widely distributed in tropical and subtropical areas today. (Most of these ants today are known for their powerful stings.) The discovery of both primitive and more advanced fossil ants in 92-million-year-old amber shows that the major lineages of ants arose before the great extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. A reasonable estimate would place the origin of ants in the Lower Cretaceous at about 130 million years ago.

Ant fossils from the Cretaceous Period are extremely rare, but those from the subsequent Tertiary are quite abundant, indicating that the great radiation of ants did not begin until the close of the Cretaceous -- a time that also marked the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs. The tantalizing question of what, in addition to their sociality, led to the unparalleled success of ants after this Period is still open.

The authors of the Nature paper are: Donat Agosti, research scientist; David A. Grimaldi, chairman and curator; and James Carpenter, curator, all of the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Entomology. Funding for the research was provided by American Museum of Natural History Trustee Henry G. Walter and by Henry and Meryl Silverstein.


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Contact: Elizabeth Chapman
chapman@amnh.org
212-769-5800
American Museum of Natural History
29-Jan-1998


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