Considered a ‘living fossil’, the dinosaur ant may have finally met its match in climate change
Carolyn is a science journalist and former Online Editor at Australian Geographic.
AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATION STATUS (EPBC Act)
The dispersion of current dinosaur ant colonies is yet to be confirmed, although populations appear to be limited to the Eyre Peninsula, SA.
Dinosaur ant, Australian ant, fossil ant
Colonies are constructed underground in close proximity to eucalyptus trees.
The most primitive of ant species, dinosaur ants are described as ‘living fossils’ and hence offer a valuable insight into ant evolution over time. Although a relative of the bulldog ant, the species also has a resemblance to wasps, which is due to ants evolving from wasps over 100 million years ago.
Previous surveys suggest population sizes range from 30 to 100 ants. The dinosaur ant forages from dusk until dawn, although ants will not leave the nest if temperatures rise higher than 5°C. Worker ants will forage individually in a nearby eucalyptus tree and often prey on other insects.
The species has an interesting tale of discovery. A colony was first recorded in 1931 near Mount Ragged, WA, yet the ant population was never again located despite subsequent expeditions. In 1977, the National Insect Collection set out from Canberra hoping to rediscover the dinosaur ant colony, and spontaneously stopped for an overnight stay in Poochera, SA. Incredibly, the team stumbled across an unknown population of dinosaur ants, around 1200km from the intended expedition site.
Since then, several other colonies have been found in various locations on the Eyre Peninsula, SA, although there is still no further record of dinosaur ants in WA.
Threats to the dinosaur ant
Bushfires are a major threat to dinosaur ant colonies. Due to the species’ dependence on eucalyptus trees for foraging, fire can have a detrimental effect on the dinosaur ants’ habitat. Fire may also cause a large number of ants to perish if it engulfs an area while the worker ants are outside the nest.
Climate change is also a concern for the species, as increased night-time temperatures may prevent worker ants from foraging. It has been proven that ants will only leave the nest if temperatures are low, and global warming is causing an unprecedented rise in temperature, giving some species little chance to adapt in time.
Recovery plans for the dinosaur ant
There is no current recovery plan in place to protect the dinosaur ant.