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‘Spooky’ creature – named after the Harry Potter villain – discovered underground. Seeing it

In the world beneath the desert landscape of Western Australia, a small, pale creature crawls around in the dark, hunting for its next meal.

While the surface reaches temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on summer days, the dark underbelly of the landscape allows life to flourish.

The ‘ghostly’ predator, with a ‘slender build, spindly legs and long, sharp mandibles’, resembles a notorious evil wizard – and is a new species.

Leptanilla voldemort, a species of subterranean ant, is only the second species of its genus ever found in Australia, researchers said in an April 11 study published in the journal ZooKeys.

The new ant species is just 2 millimeters long, about the size of a grain of sand, researchers said.  Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae/ZooKeys

The new ant species is just 2 millimeters long, about the size of a grain of sand, researchers said. Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae/ZooKeys


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The team was in the Pilbara geological region, one of the oldest land surfaces on Earth, when they drilled a hole about 80 feet deep into the ground, according to an April 12 press release published in EurekAlert.

As the scientists scraped the sides of the hole for dear life, they caught two small ants in a net, the researchers said.

When the ants were brought to the surface, their pale appearance and smooth, slender bodies reminded the researchers of He Who Must Not Be Named.

“The species name pays tribute to the antagonist of the Harry Potter book series, Lord Voldemort, a fearsome wizard who, like the new ant, is slim and pale and thrives in darkness,” the study said.

The new species was identified by its “elongated mandibles and antennae” that dwarf the shorter and thicker body parts of the other Leptanilla species, first identified in 1931.

Like his namesake, L. Voldemort is likely to be an effective killer.

‘Leptanilla Voldemort is almost certainly a predator, a fearsome hunter in the dark. This is supported by what we know from the few observations of specialized hunting behavior in other Leptanilla ant species, in which the tiny workers use their sharp jaws and powerful stings to immobilize ground-dwelling millipedes much larger than themselves before feeding their larvae bring to the ground. feeding on the carcass,” study author Mark Wong of the University of Western Australia said in the release.

The ant is blind and uses its strong mandibles to hunt in the dark, researchers said.  Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae/ZooKeysThe ant is blind and uses its strong mandibles to hunt in the dark, researchers said.  Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae/ZooKeys

The ant is blind and uses its strong mandibles to hunt in the dark, researchers said. Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae/ZooKeys

Leptanilla is not like most ants and chooses to live in small queen colonies with only about 100 worker ants, Wong said in an April 12 news release from the University of Western Australia. They live and hunt for food completely underground, he said.

“Leptanilla workers have adapted to life in the dark, are blind, have no pigmentation and are only one to two millimeters in size – not much bigger than a grain of sand – allowing them to move effortlessly through the soil,” Wong said in the press release.

Only two of the elusive ants were discovered, the second species in their genus to occur in Australia, researchers said.  Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae/ZooKeysOnly two of the elusive ants were discovered, the second species in their genus to occur in Australia, researchers said.  Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae/ZooKeys

Only two of the elusive ants were discovered, the second species in their genus to occur in Australia, researchers said. Mark KL Wong, Jane M. McRae/ZooKeys

Due to their small size and hidden environment, much of the biology of the Leptanilla species remains “shrouded in mystery,” the EurekAlert message said.

Pilbara, the rocky part of Australia where the ant was found, was formed 3.6 billion years ago, according to the publication, and is home to numerous species of subterranean invertebrates.

“The discovery of the enigmatic ant L. voldemort, which contributes to the unique biodiversity of this ancient landscape, is a testament to nature’s wizardry and the mysteries of life in the depths of darkness,” the press release said .

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