Ancient hell ant with metal horns trap jaw found inside amber
A lateral view of the newly described species Linguamyrmex vladi. © P. Barden, H.W. Herhold, D.A. Grimaldi

Scientists have discovered that while monstrous dinosaurs roamed the earth, the insect world contained its own fearsome creature – a ‘hell ant’ with a reinforced metal horn on its head.

A number of extinct insects have been given the sinister ‘hell ant’ moniker – including the Haidomyrmex cerberus, which had curious L-shaped mandibles.

But researchers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology have revealed a new hair-raising creature found inside amber, dating back 99 million years.

According to the study, the hell ant, known as Linguamyrmex vladi, hunted and defended itself in ways which differ dramatically from modern ants.

The insect, which turned up in amber mined in Myanmar, displayed rather terrifying ‘weaponry’ around its head.

This included a clypeal horn, or paddle, probably reinforced by metals such as calcium, zinc and iron, usually held in the bodies of insects.

Ancient hell ant with metal horns trap jaw found inside amber 1
View hell ant’s head and thorax. © P. Barden, H.W. Herhold, D.A. Grimaldi

It’s thought the fortified horn was used together with scythe-like mandibles to “pin and potentially puncture soft-bodied prey.”

Dr Phillip Barden, lead author of the study, said that the reinforcement of the horn would have stopped it from being damaged as the ant’s fast-snapping jaws slammed closed.

“The paddle-horn does appear to contain either increased density or metal reinforcement, as suggested by X-ray imaging,”he said.

“As the mandibles would snap closed to capture prey, the reinforcement would prevent the scythe-like mandibles from damaging the paddle-like horn.

The ferocious looking ant is likely to have died out during the Late Cretaceous and Paleocene period (K-Pg period).

“The exact cause of their extinction is unknown, however it is interesting to note that hell ants are known from three fossil deposits worldwide – Myanmar, France and Canada, ranging in age from 99 to about 78 million years ago,” Barden added.

“While these ants most probably went extinct sometime around the K–Pg boundary, along with non-avian dinosaurs, 65 millions years ago, they nevertheless appear to have been widely distributed and existed for at least 20 million years or so.”


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