When eight bizarrely big-headed soldier ants turned up in a wild colony collected from Long Island, N.Y., scientists knew they had found something interesting.
This discovery of these oversized versions of soldier ants, whose job is to defend the nest, led researchers to create their own supersoldier ants in the lab with the help of a hormone, and, by doing so, offer an explanation for how ants, and possibly other social insects, take on specific forms with dedicated jobs within their colonies.
It turns out these abnormal soldier ants were throwbacks to an ancestral state, one that no longer shows up within their species except, apparently, by accident. This phenomenon occasionally pops up elsewhere, in the form of whales bearing limbs their ancestors lost, chickens with teeth or humans with tails. [10 Vestigial Limbs & Organs]