LifestyleFrom the shadows: Meet the 'Voldemort' ant, Australia's latest discovery

From the shadows: Meet the 'Voldemort' ant, Australia's latest discovery

Leptanilla voldemort
Leptanilla voldemort
Images source: © Mark K. L. Wong, Jane M. McRae

8:56 PM EDT, April 18, 2024

Australian scientists have discovered a new species of ant named Leptanilla voldemort, inspired by the character Lord Voldemort from the popular Harry Potter series. This name reflects its appearance and foraging behavior.

The species was detailed in the journal Zookeys. These ants are characterized by their slender, pale bodies and pronounced mandibles. Research from the University of Western Australia suggests that the ants prefer to inhabit dark environments.

Introducing Leptanilla voldemort: A Newly Discovered Ant Species

"Leptanilla voldemort is almost surely a predator, a fearsome hunter in the dark. This is backed up by what we know from the few observations of specialised hunting behaviours in other Leptanilla antspecies, where the tiny workers use their sharp jaws and powerful stings to immobilise soil-dwelling centipedes much larger than them, before carrying their larvae over to feed on the carcass," said Dr Wong, lead author of the study.

To date, only two specimens of Leptanilla voldemort have been uncovered, found unexpectedly during ecological surveys focused on subterranean fauna in the arid Pilbara region of northwestern Australia. Despite the scarcity of findings, the researchers remain optimistic. The elusive nature of Leptanilla species is consistent with what is known about their behavior.

"Leptanilla species form unusually small colonies, comprised of a queen and roughly a hundred workers, living and foraging beneath the surface," Dr. Wong notes.

While Australia is recognized for its rich ant diversity, with estimates ranging from 1,300 to over 5,000 species, Leptanilla voldemort represents only the second species of the Leptanilla family identified on the continent, following the description of Leptanilla swani in 1932.

"These ants measure just 1 to 2 millimetres—not much larger than a grain of sand—allowing them to move effortlessly through the soil. Due to their miniscule size, pale colouration, and unique underground dwellings, finding Leptanilla species is a challenge even for expert ant scientists, and much of their biology remains shrouded in mystery," the researchers detailed in Zookeys.

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