Image Credit: NJIT / Chinese Academy of Sciences / University of Rennes, France
An ancient species of ant has been found frozen in time while right in the middle of devouring another insect.
Amber - which is essentially fossilized tree resin - is a material that can preserve a specimen so incredibly well that it is possible to see even the tiniest of details; providing palaeontologists with a unique opportunity to learn more about some of the prehistoric world's smallest residents.
This latest example, which contains a species of ant that lived 99 million years ago, is particularly unusual as the creature can actually be seen in the process of devouring another insect.
"Fossilized behavior is exceedingly rare, predation especially so," said Phillip Barden from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
"As palaeontologists, we speculate about the function of ancient adaptations using available evidence, but to see an extinct predator caught in the act of capturing its prey is invaluable."
Named Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri (otherwise known as the 'hell ant'), this vicious prehistoric critter had special mouthparts with a unique lower mandible capable of pinning its prey.
"Since the first hell ant was unearthed about a hundred years ago, it's been a mystery as to why these extinct animals are so distinct from the ants we have today," said Barden.
"This fossil reveals the mechanism behind what we might call an 'evolutionary experiment,' and although we see numerous such experiments in the fossil record, we often don't have a clear picture of the evolutionary pathway that led to them."