Prehistoric 'Hell Ant' Sported Metal Spike for Sucking Blood

A lateral view of the 'hell ant' (Linguamyrmex vladi), trapped in 99-million-year-old amber from Myanmar. Also visible are the scythe-like mandibles (jaws) and head paddle. The specimen is housed at the American Museum of Natural History.  P. Barden, H.W. Herhold, D.A. Grimaldi
A lateral view of the 'hell ant' (Linguamyrmex vladi), trapped in 99-million-year-old amber from Myanmar. Also visible are the scythe-like mandibles (jaws) and head paddle. The specimen is housed at the American Museum of Natural History. P. Barden, H.W. Herhold, D.A. Grimaldi

Fire ants, carpenter ants, bull ants — there are a lot of ant species that can cause a great deal of harm. But perhaps the worst ant ever was the "hell ant," a prehistoric insect that was recently discovered encased in a chunk of Myanmar amber dating to the late Cretaceous Period. Evolutionary biologist Philip Barden of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and his team wrote about their discovery in the journal Systemic Entomology.

The hell ant got its name from its anatomy and behavior. Instead of having a typical mouth, the hell ant had blades that stuck upward — think tusks — plus a horn that was reinforced with metal. Scientists don't know for sure how the hell ant used its unusual appendages, but they have some theories.

First, it seems clear that the ant's tusks and horn were mainly used for catching prey. One possible M.O. when it came to finding dinner: When a tasty insect passed nearby, the hell ant's jaw-tusks would flip the insect up and onto its horn, impaling it. Spearing prey does take a toll, though, which is probably why the hell ant's horn was clad with metal.

A lateral view of the head and thorax of the newly described Linguamyrmex vladi.
A lateral view of the head and thorax of the newly described Linguamyrmex vladi.
P. Barden, H.W. Herhold, D.A. Grimaldi

And if that isn't gruesome enough, researchers say this prehistoric insect might have had some vampire-like tendencies, too. When the ant snagged its prey, its tusk-like jaws closed to form a gutter, which may have been a means of funneling the insect's blood right down into the ant's gullet.

The hell ant — scientifically known as Linguamyrmex vladi — was discovered in a chunk of amber that was 99 million years old. Although its unusual appendages were likely used to catch its food, researchers say they may have occasionally been used defensively.

This is not the only insect sporting metal. Some present-day termite species have zinc and manganese in their mandibles (jaws). However, there are no modern ants similarly equipped.