Behold the fearsome maw of the extinct ant Zigrasimecia ferox:
The image is from an upcoming paper by paleomyrmecologist Vincent Perrichot, and the preferred food of this spike-mouthed creature is unknown. One hopes, for the preys’ sake, that it wasn’t anything with a sensitive nervous system!
Sphecomyrmine ants like Zigrasimecia are puzzling for students of evolution. These extinct insects aren’t just a straightforward blend of ancestral wasp traits and derived ant traits. While these animals do possess a measure of each, they’ve also grown a uniquely sphecomyrmine suite of characteristics. Like, for example, highly specialized nightmare spiky death mouthparts.
These ants were surviving in the times of the dinosaurs doing something that no modern insects do- though exactly what that was is unclear- and given their strange appearance it is unlikely they were directly ancestral to today’s species. Instead, Zigrasimecia and relatives are probably an early offshoot on the ant tree, a manifestation of a predatory niche that worked until it didn’t. Here’s hoping against steep odds that someone uncovers an amber specimen holding the unfortunate mystery prey.
source: Perrichot, V. 2014. A new species of the Cretaceous ant Zigrasimecia based on the worker caste reveals placement of the genus in the Sphecomyrminae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News pre-print, accessed via ResearchGate 1/5/2014.