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Creepy ghostly ant named after Harry Potter’s evil Lord Voldemort

In the arid Pilbara region of Western Australia, a small, pale creature lurks in the shadows and has evaded detection for decades. With a chilling complexion that resembles Lord Voldemort, the terrifying villain from the Harry Potter series, this newly discovered species of subterranean ant is aptly named Leptanilla voldemort.

Belonging to the genus LeptanillaThese tiny, eyeless ants are rarely seen because they spend their entire lives underground, nesting and foraging in the dark depths of the ground. Their cryptic lifestyle has made them challenging to study, as there is only one other species: Leptanilla swanpreviously known from the continent since its discovery in 1932.

Full view of Leptanilla voldemort
Full view of Leptanilla voldemort (Credit: Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae)

Dr. Mark Wong from the University of Western Australia and Jane McRae from Bennelongia Environmental Consultants, the scientists behind this discovery, published their findings in the open access journal ZooKeys. The species name, L. Voldemortis a tribute to the dark wizard Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter and draws parallels between the ant’s pale, slender appearance and the dark, underground environment in which it lives.

The two worker ants that led to the discovery of L. Voldemort were collected by underground scraping, a technique in which a weighted net is lowered into a borehole and dragged along the walls to capture unsuspecting invertebrates. Wong and McRae were struck by the ants’ unusually elongated legs, antennae and mandibles – features that set them apart from other ants. Leptanilla kind.

While L. Voldemort And L. swan were found relatively close together, the two species exhibit strikingly different morphologies. L. swan is more compact and sturdier and similar to most others Leptanilla ants that inhabit the upper layers of the soil. In contrast, the graceful construction of L. Voldemort suggests that it may occupy a different subsurface microhabitat, possibly navigating networks of cracks and voids deep below the surface.

The elongated mandibles and sharp teeth of L. Voldemort also indicate a specialized predatory lifestyle. Other Leptanilla Species are known to prey on geophilomorphic centipedes, but its specific prey L. Voldemort remains a mystery. The researchers suspect that the ant may also target other subterranean creatures, such as cryptopid centipedes, cockroaches or paurpods, found in the same borehole.

Leptanilla voldemort is almost certainly a predator, a fearsome hunter in the dark,” Wong said in a press release. “This is supported by what we know from the few observations of specialized hunting behavior in other countries Leptanilla ant species, in which the tiny workers use their sharp jaws and powerful stings to immobilize ground-dwelling centipedes much larger than themselves before transferring their larvae to feed on the carcass.”

The two individuals of Leptanilla Voldemort gathered in the Pilbara. The two individuals of Leptanilla Voldemort gathered in the Pilbara.
The two individuals of Leptanilla Voldemort gathered in the Pilbara. (Credit: Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae)

One of the oldest landscapes on Earth, the Pilbara region is a hotspot for subterranean biodiversity and is home to a wealth of endemic species, shaped by its unique geological history. The presence of both L. swan And L. Voldemort in this area underlines the importance of the Pilbara as a refuge for these elusive ants.

Despite Australia’s reputation as a hotspot for ant diversity, Leptanilla ants have remained largely hidden from view. The discovery of L. Voldemort highlights the need for targeted sampling techniques, such as subsurface scraping and pitfalls, to reveal the true diversity of these cryptic creatures.

A general landscape of the Pilbara region. A general landscape of the Pilbara region.
A general landscape of the Pilbara region. (Credit: Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae)

As researchers continue to explore the underground realm, it is likely that more will follow Leptanilla species will emerge from the shadows, shedding light on their enigmatic lives and the complex ecosystems that thrive beneath our feet.

So while this Voldemort may not wield a wand or command an army of Death Eaters, his existence is no less fascinating, as it opens a window into the hidden world of subterranean ants and the untold stories they contain.

Leptanilla voldemort, the ghostly pale ant named after the Harry Potter wizard.Leptanilla voldemort, the ghostly pale ant named after the Harry Potter wizard.
Leptanilla voldemort, the ghostly pale ant named after the Harry Potter wizard. (Credit: Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae)
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