Fossil Ants

Every Ant Tells a Story - And Scientists Explain Their Stories Here
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Fossil Taxa


Extinct or Fossil ants include both specimens fossilized in shale or other stone (compression fossils) and ants embeded in Amber. Copal is a general term that refers to non-fossilized resin material whatever its geological age. Copal older than Holocene is refered to as fossil copal.

The geologic age of the deposits are important in understanding the evolution of ants as well as their extinction and the distribution of ants worldwide. In some cases the surrounding vegetation and insects that are preserved along with the ants allows a partial reconstruction of the habitat and in some cases the microhabitat as well.

Winged and worker ants were much larger in times past so that some ant specimens are still identifiable as ants when found in stone. Specimens preserved in amber are in much better condition allowing for a more reliable identification.

Amber - Fossil Resins

A few plant resins have the ability to fossilize and insects trapped and embeded in this matrix are known as amber fossils. Resin that is older than one million years are designated as amber and younger aged resins are known as copal.

Amber is often designated by the type of plant exudate or given a mineral name. Ant fossils are most often named for its geographical origin; Dominican amber, Mexican amber, Baltic amber, Saxonian amber, Rovno amber, Spanish amber, Lebanese amber, etc.


Subfossil resins or Copal can be Carbon-14 dated so that the resin sold as "amber" in Madagascar by gem dealers is approximately 50 years old. The Copal from Colombia has been dated as 250 years old.


Trace fossils of ant nests. The evidence for these fossils representing preserved ant nest structures are based on interpretation of various elements of the ichnofossils that are analogous to modern day ant nests.

Geologic time zones reflecting the evolution of ants.

Fossil Ants.jpg

System Series Stage Age (Ma)
Neogene Miocene Aquitanian younger
Paleogene Oligocene Chattian 23.03–28.4
Rupelian 28.4–33.9
Eocene Priabonian 33.9–37.2
Bartonian 37.2–40.4
Lutetian 40.4–48.6
Ypresian 48.6–55.8
Paleocene Thanetian 55.8–58.7
Selandian 58.7–61.7
Danian 61.7–65.5
Cretaceous Upper Maastrichtian older
Subdivision of the Paleogene Period


The Cretaceous subfamily Specomyrminae is the most primitive group of true ants. The earliest ants are found in amber dating back to the Cretaceus Period (145.5 to 65.5 million years ago). True ants probably originated no more than 120 million years ago.

Early Ants

Modified after Grimaldi and Engel 2005 The Evolution of the Insects

Name Described Preservation
Gerontoformica orientalis (Engel & Grimaldi, 2005) Burmese amber
Sphecomyrma freyi Wilson, 1997 New Jersey amber
Sphecomyrma mesaki Engel & Grimaldi, 2005 New Jersey amber
Cretomyrma arnoldii and unicornis Dlussky, 1975 Siberian amber
Dlusskyidris zherichini Dlussky, 1975 Siberian amber
Boltonimecia canadensis Wilson, 1985 Canadian amber
Gerontoformica cretacica Nell & Perrault, 2004 French amber
Haidomyrmex cerberus Perrichot, Nel, et al. 2008 Burmese amber
Kyromyrma neffi Grimaldi & Agosti, 2000 New Jersey amber
Brownimecia clavata Grimaldi, Agosti & Carpenter, 1997 New Jersey amber
Canapone dentata Dlussky, 1999 Canadian amber
Eotapinoma macalpini Dlussky, 1999 Canadian amber
Protopone primigena Dlussky, 1988 Sakhalin amber
Chimaeromyrma brachycephala Dlussky, 1988 Sakhalin amber
Aneuretellus deformis Dlussky, 1988 Sakhalin amber


The Miocene is a geological epoch of the Neogene Period and extends from about 23.03 to 5.332 million years ago (Ma)

Miocene Ants from Argentina Upper Oligocene-Lower Miocene

Miocene Ants from Canada

Miocene Ants from Caucasus

Miocene Ants from China

Miocene Ants from Croatia

Miocene Ants from Czech Republic

Miocene Ants from Czechoslovakia

Miocene Ants from Dominican Republic (Dominican Amber)

Miocene Ants from France

Miocene Ants from Germany

Miocene Ants from Greece

Miocene Ants from Japan

Miocene Ants from Russia

Miocene Ants from Sicily

Miocene Ants from Switzerland

Miocene Ants from United States

Miocene Ants from Yugoslavia


The Oligocene is a geologic epoch of the Paleogene Period and extends from about 34 million to 23 million years before the present.

As with other older geologic periods, the rock beds that define the period are well identified but the exact dates of the start and end of the period are slightly uncertain. The name Oligocene refers to the sparsity of additional modern mammalian faunas after a burst of evolution during the Eocene. The Oligocene follows the Eocene Epoch and is followed by the Miocene Epoch. The Oligocene is the third and final epoch of the Paleogene Period.

Oligocene ants from France

Oligocene ants from Germany

Oligocene ants from Great Britain

Sicilian Amber

Oligocene ants from the United States


The Eocene is a geological epoch of the Paleogene Period which lasted approximately from 56 to 34 million years ago

Eocene Ants from Argentina

Baltic Amber

Bitterfeld Amber

Danish Amber

Eocene Ants from Canada

Eocene Ants from China

Eocene Ants from France Oise Amber

Eocene Ants from Germany

Eocene Ants from Great Britain

Eocene Ants from United States

Rovno Amber


The Paleocene or Palaeocene, the "early recent", is a geologic epoch that lasted from about 65.5 to 56 million years ago

Paleocene Ants from Russia

Paleocene Ants from Denmark (Paleocene-Eocene)


The Cretaceous, is a geologic period and system from circa 145.5 ± 4 to 65.5 ± 0.3 million years (Ma) ago

Burmese Amber

Cretaceous ants from Botswana

Cretaceous ants from Canada

Cretaceous ants from France

Cretaceous ants from Myanmar

Cretaceous ants from Russia

Cretaceous ants from United States


  • Bjorn Berning & Sigitas Podenas 2009. Amber: Archive of Deep Time. Denisia 26, zugleich Kataloge de Oberösterreichischen Landesmuseen N.S. 86. 294 pages.
  • DuBois, M. B.; LaPolla, J. S. 1999. A preliminary review of Colombian ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) preserved in copal. Entomol. News 110: 162-172
  • Grimaldi, D. and M. S. Engel, Evolution of the Insects Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005, xv+755 pp
  • Krynicki, V. E. 2013. Primitive ants (Hymenoptera: Sphecomyrminae) in the Campanian (Late Cretaceous) of North Carolina (USA). Life: The Excitement of Biology 1:156-165.
  • [1] Schmidt AR, Perrichot V, Svojtka M, Anderson KB, Belete KH, Bussert R, Dörfelt H, Jancke S, Mohr B, Mohrmann E, Nascimbene PC, Nel A, Nel P, Ragazzi E, Roghi G, Saupe EE, Schmidt K, Schneider H, Selden PA, Vávra N. 2010. Cretaceous African life captured in amber. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 20;107(16):7329-34.
  • [2] Wilson, E. O.; Carpenter, F. M.; Brown, W. L., Jr. 1967a. The first Mesozoic ants, with the description of a new subfamily. Psyche (Camb.) 74: 1-19