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Biologists discover the first fossil species of mountain ants in Baltic amber

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3D model of Manica andrannae.Credit: St. Petersburg State University

Scientists from St. Petersburg University have found ants of the genus Manica in amber in the collection of the Kaliningrad Amber Museum. Such ants were previously found only in the mountains of Europe, the Caucasus, North America, and Japan. Scientists report the age of the discovery to be about 33.9-37.8 million years. This is the oldest and first known fossil species of this genus.

Their research results insect.

manika is genus These ants are about 5 to 6 mm long, and currently live only in mountainous areas. Prior to this study, only six of his recent species in the genus Manica were known. Four of them live in western North America, one in Japan, and one in the mountains of Europe and the Caucasus. Scientists from St. Petersburg University have discovered a new, previously unseen member of the genus Manica in Baltic amber found in Kaliningrad.

“The species we describe, Manica andranae, is very likely the ancestor of modern ant taxa from the largest subfamily of ants, Myrmicinae, Europe.” Contributor and young scientist at the Department of Applied Ecology at St. Petersburg University Dmitry Zhakov said.

Scientists suggest that the Manica genus originated in North America. During the Eocene (56-33.9 million years ago), the continent was repeatedly connected to Eurasia by the Continental Corridor, to Asia via Beringia in the west, and to Europe via the Turian Bridge in the east. I was. One of the ancestral species that migrated to Asia from America via Beringia may have formed the extant species, his Manica yessensis, that inhabits the mountains of Japan.

Another part of our ancestors went east and came to Europe via the Turian North Atlantic Bridge in the early Eocene. It was there that our scientists discovered the new fossil species Manica andranae mentioned above.

This study was carried out using the Resource Centers of the St. Petersburg University Research Park: Microscopy and Microanalysis Center and X-ray Diffraction Research Center.

According to experts from St. Petersburg University, the mentioned hypothesis is supported by numerous studies. They demonstrated that the European fauna during this period developed independently of the Asian fauna. During the Eocene epoch, Europe and Asia were separated by the Tethys Sea. The Tethys Sea was clearly an insurmountable obstacle to animal dispersal.

In addition, fossils of insects similar to those inhabiting the New World today were previously found in Baltic amber. For example, in 2022, biologists at St. Petersburg University discovered and described for the first time another new fossil ant species from the Eocene. It is titled Dolichoderus jonasi and relates to a species typical of Central and South America.

A detailed analysis of its morphological features allowed scientists to classify the find. They used state-of-the-art computerized microtomography methods. Scientists were able to digitize the ant in great detail and create a 3D model. This made it possible to fully study all the features of the fossil, but ignored other elements, such as plant debris and air bubbles, that entered the amber and interfered with the study of the sample.

For more information:
Dmitry Zharkov et al, The First Fossil Record of the Genus Manica Jurine, 1807 from Late Eocene Baltic Amber and Discussion of the Early Evolution of Myrmicini (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmicinae), insect (2022). DOI: 10.3390/insects14010021

Quote: Biologists discover first fossil species of porcupine ant in Baltic amber (Feb 2, 2023).

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