Researchers discover new “Dracula” ant species

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

vampire ants
Dracula ants are famous for drinking the blood of their young.

Ants usually live in strictly organized communities, where the big queens spend their whole lives making babies, while the little worker ants do nothing else but work. The rules are usually black and white, but when it comes to the blood-sucking “Dracula” ants of Madagascar, even the lowest among them can rise to become royalty! As you can imagine, that makes them hard to classify, but researchers finally solved the mystery of these vampire insects after 20 years.

Dracula ants are strange for a variety of reasons. Not only do they feed on the blood of their young, but they can take on different roles throughout their lives. For example, a worker ant can suddenly become a queen, and a queen can take a break from making babies to work! For research purposes, this means that queen ants in one species look like worker ants in another, so it’s tough for humans to tell them apart.

In order to more easily identify the ants, researchers decided to observe how these little blood-suckers are born, rather than what job they have as adults. By analyzing the different birthing methods of the ants, a key pattern emerged that finally made them easy to spot among the non-vampires. The process was so hard to figure out after 20 years of analyzing thousands of the bugs, that scientists gave 3 of the 6 species names that reflect their mysterious nature: Mystrium labyrinth, Mystrium mirror, and Mystrium shadow. Talk about darkly creepy names!

Images courtesy of Alex Wild on AntWeb.