Fans of George R.R. Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire and the HBO adaptation Game of Thrones have long waited for the dragons of Daenerys Targaryen (First of Her Name, etc., etc.) to take flight, but the closest we’ll get to seeing Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal in the flesh might just be in new species of … ants?
A new publication in PLOS One, for a paper titled “Inordinate Spinescence,” describes two new species of ants dubbed Pheidole drogon and Pheidole viserion; sorry, Rhaegal, but you’ll have to wait your tun. The research aims to revise the taxonomic group P. cervicornis based on observations of differing thoracic spines of each species. Unlike the dragons of Game of Thrones, which have free rein across the seas and skies of the Known World, these ants are only known to exist in New Guinea.
Catchy names aside, the science behind this research is just as interesting. These ants have characteristic spines along their bodies that were previously thought to act as a defense mechanism. However, new evidence suggests that there may also be another function to the spines, as lead author Eli Sarnat at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology told The Guardian:
“The spines in the back do not have any muscles like the shoulders, so [shoulder] spines might be important as a skeleto-muscular support mechanism for the head in soldiers.”
The massive heads of the larger “major” workers or “soldiers” have powerful mandibles capable of cracking seeds open — much like Drogon might crack open the armor of a Westerosi knight — something the smaller “minor” workers can’t do. While there’s still more research to do in proving out this theory, the names are already set; the researchers opted to name the ant species after the cream-and-gold Viserion and black-colored Drogon. The naming convention beat out Sarnat’s wife’s suggestion of a more classic name for the ants:
“We thought it would be a little more fun,” Sarnat said, “but my wife wasn’t too pleased. She’ll get to name the next one.”
Fingers crossed for Rhaegal! You can check out better looks at the newly described critters in our image gallery below.
If you discovered a new species, what pop culture icons would you want to name it after? (Bonus points if it’s Nerdist-related.) Let us know in the comments below!
Images: PLOS One, Masako Ogasawara, Eli M. Sarnat et al.