Dracula Ants: The Missing Link

An Academy scientist has found one of the rarest ants in the world, possibly the missing link in ant evolution.

Adetomyrma ants
Adetomyrma tending workers larvae and pupae. Queen (upper left) attempting to bury herself. Photo: Brian Fisher

In one of the last remaining high plateau forests in Madagascar just outside the country's capital, Academy entomologist Brian Fisher came across a most unexpected creature: a new type of ant in a rare group he calls "Dracula ants." The new species may be the missing link evolutionary biologists need to understand how ants evolved from wasps.

Dracula ants, like the newly discovered species in Madagascar, have abdomens that more closely resemble wasps than most other ants. They also behave more like a primitive ant, one that would be more closely related to wasps. Queens cut holes into their own larvae and feed upon the hemolymph (insect blood) that oozes out, thus earning them their nickname. Workers in some species are known to stun prey, such as centipedes, with venom and bring larvae to feed on the catch. Colonies of this strange new species may contain more than 10,000 workers, multiple wingless queens, and winged males.

It's the first time these ants, which belong to the rare genus Adetomyrma, have been captured alive. The specimens will provide the first opportunity for scientists to study this enigmatic ant, which may hold the key to ant evolution.

The Madagascar project is supported in part by generous grants from the McBean Family Foundation.

students aspirating insects from a beating sheet
Malagasy students aspirating insects from a beating sheet.
Photo by Brian Fisher
drawing of ant species
Drawing of ant species.
drawing of wasp species
Drawing of wasp species.
Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) photo of new ant genera
Scanning Electron Microscpe (SEM) photo of new ant genera. Note how the abdomen looks like that of a wasp, while the head and thorax looks like that of an ant.
Photo: Brian Fisher.