Ants prospecting for fossils - National Geographic Magazine Arabic

Sometimes the greatest treasures lie where no one thinks، And this is the case with the astonishing discovery of 10 new species of mammals that once lived on planet Earth; Thanks to the “reaper ants” and its precious mounds.

Harvester ants live in the western United States It feeds on the seeds it collects, so farmers consider it a pest. The ants inhabit mounds of rubble that can last for decades, and the ants keep the barren land around their kingdom 10 meters in diameter to protect and secure their massive settlement. Although they are a pest in the eyes of farmers, they are undoubtedly the best friends of paleontologists. When these tiny creatures establish their settlement, they form an upper layer of about 1 centimeter thick of bead-sized stones to protect the mound from erosion. They may travel 30 meters to search for building materials with the required specifications, which sometimes include fossils and archaeological fossils, so ant hills have become hidden treasures for researchers.

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A team of scientists from the US state of Nebraska examined 19 harvester ant moundsThey found about 6,000 tiny fossils of extinct mammals; It includes the teeth and jaw bone fragments of nine species of rodents, and an insectivorous shrew-like animal. The finds also included the teeth of primates, a rabbit-like animal, and an unknown type of bat. Finding all these fossil remains in one location saves scientists years of research and excavation, and provides them with a deeper understanding of life on the North American continent about 34 million years ago, at the end of the Eocene and the beginning of the Oligocene. During this period, the planet entered a long cooling wave that pushed many species to extinction, and rearranged the Earth’s ecosystems. These parts of North America were warmer and wetter and surrounded by dense forests, so the fossils of mammals of that era reveal many secrets. Scientists can also determine the time period for a species’ emergence and extinction by the layers that cover the harvester ant mounds.

  • Ants looking for fossils
    These tiny teeth, only a millimeter wide, belonged to an extinct insect-eating mammal resembling a shrew. Photo: Clint A. Boyd

Ants’ amazing ability to dig for fossils isn’t a momentary discovery. Paleontologist John Bell Hatcher wrote in his scientific paper in 1896 advising fossil collectors to visit ant hills, but this information remained scientifically unproven until 2009, when a scientific study was published proving the role of harvester ants in finding archaeological and fossil remains. When you decide to hunt for your treasure, be sure not to ignore the ant houses.