Cretaceous Amber Reveals Advanced Sociality in Ants & Termites Was Present Tens of Millions of Years Earlier Than Previous Fossil Records Indicate

Fighting ants, giant solider termites, and foraging worker ants recently discovered in 100-million-year-old amber provide direct evidence for advanced social behavior in ancient ants and termites--two groups that are immensely successful because of their ability to organize in hierarchies. The new work, led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Kansas, and published on February 11, 2016 in two papers in the journal Current Biology, proves that advanced sociality in ants and termites was present tens of millions of years earlier than indicated by the previous fossil record. One article is titled "Adaptive Radiation in Socially Advanced Stem-Group Ants from the Cretaceous" and the other is titled "Morphologically Specialized Termite Castes and Advanced Sociality in the Early Cretaceous." "Ecologically, advanced sociality is one of the most important adaptive features for animals," said co-author Dave Grimaldi, Ph.D., a curator in the Museum's Division of Invertebrate Zoology. "All ants and termites are social, and they are ubiquitous across terrestrial landscapes, with thousands of described species and probably even more that we haven't yet found." Advanced sociality, or eusociality, a hallmark of which is reproductive specialization into worker and queen castes, is essentially a phenomenon of the group of invertebrates known as arthropods. Queens and reproductive males take the roles as the sole reproducers while the soldiers and workers defend and care for the colony. Eusociality occurs in a range of arthropods, from some shrimp, beetles, and aphids, to various wasps, though the phenomenon is nowhere more pronounced than in honey bees, ants, and termites.
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