If recent research reports are to be believed, certain species of leaf-cutting ants have an outer strong layer of calcite mineral on the exoskeleton. This gives protection from bodily injuries during a fight. Everyone might think, that these small leaf-cutting ants are defenseless. They are not so, in reality. Some of the smaller ants have this secret weapon. The layer is thin but quite tough, for their kin to break.
External Body Mineralization – A Reality
It is the first time, that scientific research has reveled such a external body mineral cover. The biologist Hongjie Li revealed after coming to a conclusion to his colleagues, that this is the first time, he discovered this secret. He calls them rock ants.
Cameron Currie, another evolutionist and colleague to Li, says that this feature has excited their entire fraternity. Currie was studying these leaf-cutting ants for quite some time now. He has been at it for more than 20 years now. The lab, where he is attached has been studying the interactions of these ants and the external microbes. It seems to play a strong role in the farming practices. The biologists and evolutionists had found a sheen on the body.
So, the practice started. Most of the lab technicians tried to dissolve the outer layer or cut it. The blade did not go through. Currie asked another post-doctoral student to think about possible alternatives.
The substance was definitely not wax or any carbonaceous compound. Currie believed that, and then they started thinking about alternatives.
Means To Melt The Exoskeleton
While brushing his teeth, Li seemed to get the idea of mouthwash. So, the very next day, the team started using the mouthwash to dissolve the outer coating. And, it did the trick. Then, the team did chemical, X-ray and other microscopic examinations to reveal a thin layer of calcite. It was containing high levels of magnesium as well.
The team also tested the hardness and found it to be double the width of the exoskeleton. Duncan Murdock, a paleobiologist from Oxford has shown a lot of amazement. This whole discovery seems to be mind-boggling to all. However, if you go back to your science books There are several things which say that ants and carbs are cousins. However, it is still not clear how the calcite layer formed.
Moreover, the team has taken further tests. The armor seems to protect the smaller ants from the bigger ones. Atta cephalotes, the species has this mineral armor tipped the scale in the workers’ favor. So, it works in favor in fights. The soldier ant killed all the ants that did not have the armor. The vast majority of armored ants survived.
These incidences have led the team to believe in the strength of nature. Some sections of the fraternity are not yet convinced about the battle theory. The finding is under scrutiny from several other paleobotanists and biologists from several other universities today.
Currie has plans to investigate this further, so that he can find the Reality. He has plans to study the phenomena in its entirety. The thin, but tough coating seems to have intrigued all.