In 2006, while collecting ants on an abandoned property in central Long Island, biologist Ehab Abouheif of McGill University noticed eight unusually oversized ants. They were anomalies to the region, but looked similar to the so-called "supersoldier" ants found in the American Southwest.
Supersoldiers are the biggest, baddest ants of the Pheidole ant genus. They loom above their ant brethren with dramatic bulbous heads and sprout two vestigial wings during development. It wasn't until Abouheif and team had brought the specimen back to the lab that they realized they had found supersoldiers in a region where such things simply didn't exist.
"We were running up and down the halls," Abouheif said. "It was just nuts." That was Thursday. By Monday, the day they team had planned to start documenting the insects' behavior, they came in to find them all dead. Another group of tiny pharoah ants had escaped from their enclosure, marched over to the supersoldier colony and killed them all.
Fast forward five years and a lot of research, Abouheif and team have found that with the right formula, otherwise normal Pheidole ants can be induced to develop into supersoldiers. The finding was released on January 5 in the journal Science.