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Newly discovered Leptanilla ant named after Harry Potter villain

A new ant species, Leptanilla Voldemort, has been discovered in the stark and ancient Pilbara region of northwestern Australia, a place known for its relentless sun and minimal rainfall.

This discovery adds a mystical layer to one of Earth’s oldest landscapes, renowned for its unique subterranean biodiversity.

Ant named after Harry Potter villain

The research was led by Dr. Mark Wong from the University of Western Australia and Jane McRae from Bennelongia Environmental Consultants. The study introduces a pale, slender ant with its notable long, sharp mandibles and spindly legs.

The name Leptanilla Voldemort actively pays tribute to the infamous dark wizard from the Harry Potter series, reflecting the ant’s eerie appearance and its emergence from the dark, underground world.

Finding Leptanilla Voldemort ant

The researchers unearthed the species during an ecological survey that aimed to document the subterranean fauna of the arid Pilbara. They used an innovative collection method by lowering a net down a 25-meter drill hole.

The team skillfully retrieved the net as it scraped against the hole’s inner surface, a technique known as “subterranean scraping.” Remarkably, they collected only two specimens, underscoring the rarity and elusive nature of this species.

Compared to its kin in the Leptanilla genus, L. voldemort exhibits extreme body slenderness and uniquely long antennae and legs. This suggests that it inhabits not only the soil but possibly also air-filled voids or cracks deeper within the rock layers.

Predatory nature of the new Leptanilla ant

“Leptanilla voldemort is almost surely a predator, a fearsome hunter in the dark. This is backed up by what we know from the few observations of specialized hunting behaviors in other Leptanilla ant species, where the tiny workers use their sharp jaws and powerful stings to immobilize soil-dwelling centipedes much larger than them, before carrying their larvae over to feed on the carcass,” noted Dr. Wong.

Similarly, although researchers have not yet identified the exact prey of Leptanilla Voldemort ants, they collected various other subterranean invertebrates, including centipedes, beetles, and flies, from the same locality. These findings hint at a diverse underground ecosystem.

Leptanilla ants

Leptanilla ants are part of an enigmatic group. Out of over 14,000 known ant species worldwide, only about 60 belong to this genus. Adapting to their underground lifestyle, these ants form small, blind, and colorless colonies to navigate the darkness.

The tiny workers, measuring just 1 to 2 millimeters – barely larger than a grain of sand – move effortlessly through soil, making them incredibly challenging to locate and study.

Significance of finding Leptanilla Voldemort ant

L. Voldemort becomes only the second Leptanilla species identified on the Australian continent. Previously, researchers discovered the first, Leptanilla swani, nearly a century ago in 1931, and it has rarely been seen since.

This recent discovery further highlights the rich diversity of ants in Australia, a country that is home to an estimated 1,300 to 5,000 species.

Celebrating the wizardry of nature

This discovery not only enriches our understanding of the region’s ancient and complex ecosystem. Moreover, it underscores the continuous surprises hidden in the depths of our planet.

The enigmatic L. Voldemort serves as a testament to the intricate wizardry of nature and the ongoing mysteries that await discovery beneath our feet in the shadows of the Pilbara.

Key characteristics of Leptanilla Voldemort ant

As discussed, Leptanilla Voldemort showcases several distinctive characteristics that set it apart within the enigmatic Leptanilla genus and the broader ant family.

These features are not only adaptations to its specific ecological niche but also reflections of its evolutionary history and habitat in the Pilbara region of Australia. Here are all of its characteristics summarized:

Physical description and size

Leptanilla Voldemort ant is noted for its pale, almost ghostly appearance. This is quite unusual for ants, which are typically darker.

This pallor likely helps it blend into its subterranean habitat. The ant’s body is exceptionally slender and elongated, with dimensions that are extreme even within its genus.

Adults measure just 1 to 2 millimeters in length, positioning them among the smallest ants globally. This tiny size allows L. voldemort to navigate through soil and possibly smaller crevices within rocks more efficiently than larger ants.


The mandibles of L. Voldemort are long and sharp. This feature is particularly adapted for a predatory lifestyle. These mandibles are essential for subduing prey, which may include a variety of other soil-dwelling invertebrates such as centipedes, which are much larger than the ant itself. The ability to immobilize and consume larger prey is a significant advantage in the nutrient-sparse underground environments.

Antennae and legs

The antennae and legs of Leptanilla Voldemort ants are notably long and spindly. These extended limbs enhance the ant’s sensory capabilities and mobility, crucial for navigating in complete darkness and through complex underground terrains.

The long antennae serve as sensitive detectors of vibrations and chemical signals, helping L. voldemort locate prey, mates, and navigate around obstacles in its path.

Habitat adaptations

L. voldemort is primarily subterranean, residing in the soil. However, its physical adaptations suggest it might also exploit other subterranean niches, such as air-filled voids or deeper cracks within rock layers. This versatility in habitat preference indicates a high level of adaptability and a possibly broader ecological role than previously understood for this genus.

Predatory behavior

The predatory nature of L. Voldemort is a significant aspect of its behavior. Like other species in the Leptanilla genus, it likely employs a combination of ambush and pursuit tactics to capture prey. The sharp jaws and potentially venomous stings provide it with the tools necessary to tackle prey that provides substantial nutritional returns relative to the ant’s small size.

Colony structure

The colony structure of the Leptanilla Voldemort ant mirrors the typical pattern observed in the Leptanilla genus, featuring small, blind, colorless workers and colonies usually comprising no more than a few hundred individuals.

The small size of these colonies and the specialized nature of their underground environment necessitate highly integrated and cooperative interactions within the colony, crucial for survival in such a challenging environment.

Elusiveness and rarity

Due to its minuscule size, pale coloration, and subterranean lifestyle, detecting and studying L. Voldemort poses significant challenges. This elusiveness contributes to the rarity of sightings and the difficulty in gathering substantial data on their biology and ecology.

The discovery of the latest Leptanilla ant species not only adds a new member to the biodiversity of one of the Earth’s oldest landscapes, but also opens new questions about the ecological dynamics of subterranean environments and the evolutionary pathways that lead to such highly specialized life forms.

The full study is published in the journal ZooKeys.


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