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, 9 (8), e104410

The First Ant-Termite Syninclusion in Amber With CT-scan Analysis of Taphonomy


The First Ant-Termite Syninclusion in Amber With CT-scan Analysis of Taphonomy

David Coty et al. PLoS One.


We describe here a co-occurrence (i.e. a syninclusion) of ants and termites in a piece of Mexican amber (Totolapa deposit, Chiapas), whose importance is two-fold. First, this finding suggests at least a middle Miocene antiquity for the modern, though poorly documented, relationship between Azteca ants and Nasutitermes termites. Second, the presence of a Neivamyrmex army ant documents an in situ raiding behaviour of the same age and within the same community, confirmed by the fact that the army ant is holding one of the termite worker between its mandibles and by the presence of a termite with bitten abdomen. In addition, we present how CT-scan imaging can be an efficient tool to describe the topology of resin flows within amber pieces, and to point out the different states of preservation of the embedded insects. This can help achieving a better understanding of taphonomical processes, and tests ethological and ecological hypotheses in such complex syninclusions.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. General configuration of the syninclusion.
(A) Overview of the amber piece, under optical microscope. scale bar = 3 mm. (B) Three-dimensional replica of the same; colours define taxonomic groups, viz. purple for Azteca ants, blue for Nasutitermes termites, red for Neivamyrmex ant, green for small Psocodea. Labels: Az1, Azteca ant nearest to predation scene; Az2 and Az3, two other Azteca ants, both trapped in a flow distinct to that of the others inclusions and whose physical density matches that of the Nasutitermes soldier; Na1, Nasutitermes worker trapped between the Neivamyrmex mandibles; Na2, isolated Nasutitermes termite closest to predation scene; Na3, Nasutitermes worker with damaged gaster; Na4, Nasutitermes soldier; Ne, Neivamyrmex ant; Ps, Psocodea; Scale bar = 3 mm.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Details of the syninclusion.
(A) General side view of the Neivamyrmex ant holding a Nasutitermes termite (Na1) between its mandibles, under optical microscope, scale bar = 1 mm. (B) detail of damaged gaster of Nasutitermes worker (Na3) closely contiguous to a Nasutitermes soldier (Na4), scale bar = 1 mm. (C) side view of closely contiguous Nasutitermes soldier (Na4) and worker (Na3), black arrow: digestive tube of Nasutitermes worker scale bar = 1 mm.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Virtual slicing from CT scan analysis showing flow boundaries.
Yellow arrows shows starting and ending points of flows limits. Na2 and Na3 belong to the same flow, strong disparity in density matter between specimens from same taxonomic groups, scale bar = 5 mm.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Density differences identified by CT scan.
(A–B) Three-dimensional reconstruction artificially coloured representing two different density sets. ‘Nasutitermes soldier’ set in white, ‘Neivamyrmex’ set in black, as in CT-scan slices, Scale bar = 5 mm. (C) reslice of the original CT scan slice showing density differences between specimens. High density in white or light gray, low density in black or dark gray (darker than amber). Az2 and Az3 clearly denser than amber, Az1 and Ne empty structures, scale bar = 5 mm. (D) same slice as in B, but with 3D reconstruction of specimens, showing slice position in syninclusion, and specimen correspondences, scale bar = 5 mm. (E) reslice of original CT-scan slices, showing Nasutitermes soldier (Na4) and Nasutitermes worker (Na3), both denser than amber, scale bar = 5 mm. (F) same slice than E, but with 3D reconstruction of specimens, showing positions of specimens, scale bar = 5 mm.
Figure 5
Figure 5. Flow margins visible under optic microscope.
Yellow arrows: ‘green veils’ representing limits between two flows, blue arrows: ‘sinuate line’ visible on surface of the amber piece, scale bar = 5 mm.

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Grant support

This study is supported by the French ISYEB, UMR 7205 CNRS, UPMC and EPHE, and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness project CGL2011-23948/BTE. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.