New Titanomyrmaland

Giant ants are today found in tropical areas such as central Africa, but a 50 million year-old giant queen ant fossil (Titanomyrma lubei) over 5 cm long has recently been found in Wyoming. Similar fossil species have been found in Germany and the Isle of Wight. The Eocene temperature occasionally rose higher than it is today, probably because of the release of greenhouse gases such as methane into the atmosphere; and land-bridges connected Europe, Greenland and America, so intercontinental interchange was possible. Her Majesty explains:


I’m Titanomyrma lubei,
The two-inch-long Queen of the Ants:
They’ve found my remains in Wyoming
But my family roots were in Hants*.

I and my giant formic forbears
Grew large in that Eocene time.
Global warming from masses of methane
Gave the Arctic a temperate clime,

So we left all our Isle of Wight cousins –
Dull stay-at-home timid things, they –
And set off on our grand transmigration:
Each queen in her turn led the way.

With no sat nav commands to mislead them,
They reckoned the best way to go
Was over the land-bridge to Greenland
Thanks to sea-levels being so low.

Once there, in the warm Greenland climate,
They sensed that, not too far away,
Just over the land-bridge to America,
New Titanomyrmaland lay.

When they got to Wyoming they settled,
And took to these arid terrains.
So I’m proud that my lubei lineage
Is enshrined in my mortal remains.

* In fact, following a ‘Home Rule’ campaign, the Isle of Wight has been politically separate from Hampshire since 1890; but Her Majesty could not have foreseen this.

[Photo & drawing: The Royal Society]
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