Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Ants in your pants

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Ant, ants, ants in your pants. Ants, ants, crawling over flowering plants.

Long, long ago when dinosaurs still had a chance, ants and flowering plants may have done quite a dance.

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Not the waltz, not the polka, Not to techno or to go-go.

If you want some answers to these rhymes, keep on reading, it won't take much time.

Scientists have created a family tree for ants. This family tree shows how "ant A" is related to "ant B," kind of like how a family tree for people shows you how "Aunt Amy" is related to "Aunt Bea."

The ant family tree helped the scientists calculate when different kinds of ants appeared on Earth.

The scientists discovered that lots of new kinds of ants developed on Earth around the same time that many new kinds of flowering plants showed up, about 100 million years ago, when dinosaurs were still around.

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This is an exciting discovery because in the past, scientists have said that the main time period when lots of different kinds of today's ants developed occurred millions of years later.

The scientists think that the explosion of new kinds of flowering plants around 100 million years ago (and the new insects that developed at the same time) made it possible for many new ant "flavors" to develop in a short period of time.

The new flowering plants and insects probably provided food and shelter for ants. The ants seem to have taken advantage of all these new opportunities. They specialized and got really good at eating new foods and living in new kinds of environments. This specialization led to lots of new kinds of ants, the scientists think.


This new research from Corrie Moreau at Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and her colleagues will appear in the 07 April 2006 issue of the journal Science.