Spiky, big-headed ants named after Game of Thrones dragons

Pheidole drogon (supplied)
Pheidole drogon (supplied)

Two new species of ants with massive spikes and enormous heads have been named after dragons from Game of Thrones.

Pheidole viserion and Pheidole drogon have been named after two of Daenerys Targaryen's dragon children, Viserion and Drogon.

Spiky, big-headed ants named after Game of Thrones dragons

Daenerys Targaryen and her dragon child, Viserion (HBO)

But in a twist worthy of the hit HBO show, the scientists who discovered Viserion and Drogon say the spikes probably weren't used in combat.

Once you… see these ants' extraordinary spines, or 'inordinate spinescence' as we phrase it in the study, you can't help but ask why on earth these structures evolved," says Eli Sarnat of the Okinawa Institute of Science in Japan.

"The most obvious answer is defence, but the internal morphology revealed by this new micro-CT scanning technology suggests that the answer might also have something to do with muscle mechanics and powering the huge heads of the soldier ants."

In other words, their heads are as big as Hodor.

Spiky, big-headed ants named after Game of Thrones dragons

3D renderings of the dragon-ants (supplied)

Micro-CT is a 3D imaging technique using X-rays, which allows scientists to build highly accurate digital models of tiny creatures.

"This is one of the first studies in ant taxonomy to use micro-CT," says study contributor Evan Economo. "While this method is gaining popularity in different scientific fields, it is rare to use it in this way."

Two other new ant species also revealed in the same issue of PLOS One are Pheidole ululevu and Pheidole kava. They have a "much less dramatic appearance", the latter of which has been named after a "mildly narcotic drink from the Pacific Islands".