Thanks to their music and ongoing support of the rainforests of South America, Radiohead have been honoured with the naming of a newly discovered species of fungus farming ant. The silky ants grow fungi as food, much like we grow crops. They've been doing it for four million years though, which in fact is quite a short period of time for an ant species.
An evolutionary newcomer, this rapid radiation of species is one of many varieties of similar creatures found foraging the undergrowth in the Amazon. Sericomyrmex Radioheadi is one of three new species of ant discovered, this one in particular from the Venezuelan rainforests.
They are unusual in the way that the females including the queen and workers all carry a second skin which has the appearance of crystalline fibres. It's unknown what they're made of or why they're there but speculation suggests that it is microbial in origin and acts as some kind of immune system like our commensal bacteria works for us.
The electron microscope reveals that the silky fibres are actually many hairs of various sizes and lengths. Other ants are known to keep bacteria around them which prevents parasites and other invasive species. These are not present in the silky ants colonies but neither are the typical unwanted things that bother the other ants.
The DNA sequencing of the species have revealed the triple branch in this particular ant tree. It was previously thought to be just one. Now scientists are considering the likelihood of there being more species that have yet to be catalogued.
The full study is available here, and you can check out some interesting ecology courses here.
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