Leptanilla voldemort, the ghostly pale ant named after the Harry Potter wizard.

Leptanilla voldemort, the ghostly pale ant named after the Harry Potter wizard. (Credit: Mark K. L. Wong, Jane M. McRae)

In the arid Pilbara region of Western Australia, a tiny, pale creature has been lurking in the shadows, evading detection for decades. Bearing a spine-chilling skin color similar to Lord Voldemort, the terrifying villain from the Harry Potter series, this newly discovered species of subterranean ant is aptly named Leptanilla voldemort.

Belonging to the genus Leptanilla, these minuscule, eyeless ants are rarely seen, as they spend their entire lives underground, nesting and foraging in the dark depths of the soil. Their cryptic lifestyle has made them a challenge to study, with only one other species, Leptanilla swani, previously known from the continent since its discovery in 1932.

Full-face view of Leptanilla voldemort
Full-face view of Leptanilla voldemort (Credit: Mark K. L. Wong, Jane M. McRae)

Dr. Mark Wong of the University of Western Australia and Jane McRae of Bennelongia Environmental Consultants, the scientists behind this discovery, published their findings in the open-access journal ZooKeys. The species name, L. voldemort, pays homage to the dark wizard Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, drawing parallels between the ant’s pale, slender appearance and the dark, subterranean environment it inhabits.

The two worker ants that led to the discovery of L. voldemort were collected by subterranean scraping, a technique that involves lowering a weighted net down a drill hole and dragging it along the walls to capture any unsuspecting invertebrates. Wong and McRae, were struck by the ants’ unusually elongated legs, antennae, and mandibles – features that set them apart from other Leptanilla species.

While L. voldemort and L. swani were found in relatively close proximity, the two species display strikingly different morphologies. L. swani is more compact and stout, resembling most other Leptanilla ants that inhabit the upper layers of soil. In contrast, the gracile build of L. voldemort suggests that it may occupy a different subterranean microhabitat, possibly navigating through networks of cracks and voids deep beneath the surface.

The elongated mandibles and sharp teeth of L. voldemort also hint at a specialized predatory lifestyle. Other Leptanilla species are known to hunt geophilomorph centipedes, but the specific prey of L. voldemort remains a mystery. The researchers suspect that the ant may target other subterranean creatures such as cryptopid centipedes, cockroaches, or paurpods, which were found in the same drill hole.

Leptanilla voldemort is almost surely a predator, a fearsome hunter in the dark,” Wong says in a media release. “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.”

The two individuals of Leptanilla voldemort collected in Pilbara.
The two individuals of Leptanilla voldemort collected in Pilbara. (Credit: Mark K. L. Wong, Jane M. McRae)

The Pilbara region, one of the oldest landscapes on Earth, is a hotspot for subterranean biodiversity, harboring a wealth of endemic species shaped by its unique geological history. The presence of both L. swani and L. voldemort in this area underscores the importance of the Pilbara as a refuge for these elusive ants.

Despite Australia’s reputation as a hotspot for ant diversity, Leptanilla ants have largely remained hidden from view. The discovery of L. voldemort highlights the need for targeted sampling techniques, such as subterranean scraping and pitfall traps, to uncover the true diversity of these cryptic creatures.

A general landscape of the Pilbara region.
A general landscape of the Pilbara region. (Credit: Mark K. L. Wong, Jane M. McRae)

As researchers continue to probe the subterranean realm, it is likely that more Leptanilla species will emerge from the shadows, shedding light on their enigmatic lives and the complex ecosystems thriving beneath our feet.

So, while this Voldemort may not wield a wand or command an army of Death Eaters, its existence is no less fascinating, as it opens a window into the hidden world of subterranean ants and the untold stories they hold.

Leptanilla voldemort, the ghostly pale ant named after the Harry Potter wizard.
Leptanilla voldemort, the ghostly pale ant named after the Harry Potter wizard. (Credit: Mark K. L. Wong, Jane M. McRae)

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink

Editor-in-Chief

Chris Melore

Editor

Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor