Here’s something unusual for the well-financed collector: Paraneuretus, an extinct genus from a nearly extinct subfamily of ants. This pair of fossilized worker ants is selling on ebay today for over $400. Out of my budget for these sorts of things.
Most amber ants up for auction belong to common extinct species: Azteca, Tapinoma, Camponotus and so forth, usually from the Dominican or Baltic amber deposits and pertaining to extant genera. This is the first aneuretine I’ve seen.
What’s interesting about these ants? Well, they’re one of those neither-this-nor-that fossils that are intermediate between groups of modern ants. Aneuretines have a single petiolar node and a body structure much like the modern subfamilies Dolichoderinae and Formicinae. But unlike either of those, Paraneuretus retains a stinger. It’s like a proto-dolichoderine before the ancestral stinger was lost in favor of more derived chemical defenses.
A single aneuretine persists today: Aneuretus simoni, a small and probably endangered species from Sri Lanka. Genetic analyses of that species show it to be sister to dolichoderines, as one would expect. What is less clear is where fossils like Paraneuretus fit. They might be relatives of Aneuretus, but their similarity might just be an artifact of retained ancestral traits, with Paraneuretus genealogically closer to the dolichoderines. In any case, it is a fascinating fossil and a glimpse at an earlier ant body plan only rarely seen today.
By the way, if any of you end up buying these ants I urge you to consider donating the specimens to a museum where they will be available for scientific research. Other specimens do exist, but these are in beautiful condition.