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Specialized Myrmecophily at the Ecological Dawn of Modern Ants

Parker, Joseph and Grimaldi, David A. (2014) Specialized Myrmecophily at the Ecological Dawn of Modern Ants. Current Biology, 24 (20). pp. 2428-2434. ISSN 0960-9822.

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Myrmecophiles—species that depend on ant societies—include some of the most morphologically and behaviorally specialized animals known [1]. Remarkable adaptive characters enable these creatures to bypass fortress-like security, integrate into colony life, and exploit abundant resources and protection inside ant nests [2, 3]. Such innovations must result from intimate coevolution with hosts, but a scarcity of definitive fossil myrmecophiles obscures when and how this lifestyle arose. Here, we report the earliest known morphologically specialized and apparently obligate myrmecophile, in Early Eocene (∼52 million years old) Cambay amber from India. Protoclaviger trichodens gen. et sp. nov. is a stem-group member of Clavigeritae, a speciose supertribe of pselaphine rove beetles (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae) heavily modified for myrmecophily via reduced mouthparts for trophallaxis with worker ants, brush-like trichomes that exude appeasement compounds, and fusions of many body and antennal segments [4, 5]. Protoclaviger captures a transitional stage in the evolutionary development of this novel body plan, most evident in its still-distinct abdominal tergites. The Cambay paleobiota marks one of the first occurrences in the fossil record of a significant presence of modern ants [6]. Protoclaviger reveals that sophisticated social parasites were nest intruders throughout, and probably before, the ascent of ants to ecological dominance, with ancient groups such as Clavigeritae primed to radiate as their hosts became increasingly ubiquitous.

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Parker, Joseph0000-0001-9598-2454
Additional Information:© 2014 Elsevier. Received 17 July 2014, Revised 14 August 2014, Accepted 20 August 2014, Available online 2 October 2014. We thank P. Nascimbene (AMNH) for assistance with preparation of amber specimens; H. Singh (Birbal Sahni Institute for Paleobotany) for collaborative work on Indian amber; and M. Barclay and B. Garner (NHM London), R. Bekchiev (NMNHS, Bulgaria), M. Caterino (UCSB, USA), C. Carlton (LSU, USA), J. Chaul (UFV, Brazil), K.T. Eldredge (University of Kansas, USA), B. Fisher (CAS, USA), P. Hlavac (Czech Republic), D. Mann (OUMNH, UK), M. Maruyama (Kyushu University, Japan), A. Newton and M. Thayer (FMNH, USA), S. Nomura (National Museum of Science and Nature, Tokyo, Japan), S. Kurbatov (Russia), and P. Krásenský (Czech Republic) for donations of specimens. I. Vea (Nagoya University, Japan) kindly assisted with BEAST, and T. Komatsu (Kyushu University) generously permitted use of photographs of living Clavigeritae. C. Carlton, K.T. Eldredge, P. Hlavac, D. Mann, M. Maruyama, M. Ryan, A. Newton, and M. Thayer provided important comments on the manuscript. This study was supported by a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship (Wellcome Trust), a crowdfunding project (, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Ellison Medical Foundation funding to J.P. Fieldwork on India amber was made possible through funding by the Constantine Niarchos Foundation to D.A.G. Accession Numbers: Genbank accession numbers for the new DNA sequences reported in this paper can be found in Table S2.
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Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)UNSPECIFIED
Ellison Medical FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Constantine Niarchos FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:20
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180112-141849572
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Official Citation:Joseph Parker, David A. Grimaldi, Specialized Myrmecophily at the Ecological Dawn of Modern Ants, Current Biology, Volume 24, Issue 20, 2014, Pages 2428-2434, ISSN 0960-9822, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:84310
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:16 Jan 2018 16:56
Last Modified:24 Feb 2020 10:30

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