Breaking News: Enormous Flying Ant Fossils

Now this is a big ant:

LiveScience is reporting that the fossilized bodies of giant ants- heretofore known only from wings- have been described by Bruce Archibald et al from Eocene deposits in Wyoming:

At about 2 inches (5 cm) long, the specimen is a “monstrously big ant,” said Bruce Archibald, a paleoentomologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who reported the discovery today (May 3) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Though fossils of loose giant ant wings have been found before in the United States, this is the first known full-body specimen.

The story appears to be a mistimed embargo, as the paper itself isn’t actually out yet (7pm May 3rd). As I have not read the original research, I’ll refrain from further comment.

[photo by Bruce Archibald]

***update: the paper is now online

source: Archibald, S.B., Johnson, K.R., Mathewes, R.W., and Greenwood, D.R. 2011. Intercontinental dispersal of giant thermophilic ants across the Arctic during early Eocene hyperthermals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, online early

14 thoughts on “Breaking News: Enormous Flying Ant Fossils”

  1. The journal comes out every 15 days, on the 7th and 22nd of every month. If so, we have to wait four more days. I also thought that these had been known for some time…

  2. James.C. Trager

    Formicium, of Epcene or Miocene shales from Germany was not as big as these. I eagerly await more . . .

      1. I definitely should not write before adequate blood caffeine titration has been acheived!
        Okay then — Formicium was indeed Eocene, and its species were (not “not”, but rather) ABOUT the same size as this newly discovered critter. I wonder if these were a sort of Vespa mandarinia equivalent among the ants?

      2. You might as well call it the “Precrustean” Epoch, lol.

        I just love how so much speculation results from so little reliable data. While there is little doubt that such a creature existed, conclusions about specifics and longevity of climate conditions and evolutionary pathways millions of years ago are certainly a stretch. Mark Twain certainly made a good point.

  3. Vincent Perrichot

    One species, the German ,Formicium giganteum (now Titanomyrma giganteum) from the Eocene of Messel was even larger than the new species from Wyoming, with a total body length surpassing 6 cm.
    I had the chance to examine the holotype recently, as I am now responsible for the Antweb fossil project which is already online here: and
    So far I’ve been able to image approximately 70 out of the ca. 650 extinct species, which are now available online. I’ve uploaded photos of giganteum but for any reason it does not appear yet; we are trying to fix this and a few other issues with Brian Fisher and the programmer (also the taxonomic history of each species and details on the type material do not appear). Hopefully this will be fixed soon, but you can already check a photograph of Formicium similimum (5 cm long) (
    Titanomyrma and its updates will be added soon. I think the fossil project adds a whole new dimension to Antweb, with more visibility for fossil ants, and you guys are welcome to send some high res pictures of any fossil species you may have in your institution.

    1. Thanks very much for the great work that you do.

      Antweb is a wonderful resource; I only wish that more insect taxa had a similar dedicated and hard working group of people doing the same thing !

  4. mrilovetheants

    I like to think early cave myrmecologiests use much larger test tubes than we have today.

    1. Hah! You mean, after they advanced culturally from their Cretaceous domestication of cow-like herbivorous dinosaurs and dog-like carnivorous ones to their Eocene tradition of insect keeping. Sounds like something from that Creationist museum in Tennessee. :~)

      1. Hey — or the creationist museum near me. We have one right by Dinosaur Valley State Park (Texas). They even have proof that people were around during the time of the dinosaurs — footprints of people mixed in with those of dinosaurs, etc!

        I do wonder about getting all those dinosaurs onto the Ark, though. Now with these large ants, I think the Ark was not only smelly but really, really crowded.

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