An insect-mammal crossbreed: the myrmecoleon

A myrmecoleon is a creature with the upper torso of a lion and the rest of the body is like an ant.

While it's not probable for a true insect-mammal hybrid to happen naturally, are there any evolutionary ways for a creature similar to the myrmecoleon in appearance to come into existence? Preferably a mammal with adaptations to have an ant-like body.

It would have to be about the size of a lion, perhaps a bit smaller but not by much, for my purposes.

• That depends, what the heck is a "myrnecoleon"? – AndreiROM May 9 '16 at 14:45
• How big is the hybrid? It is closer in size to an ant or a lion? – Scott Downey May 9 '16 at 15:47
• You don't have enough specifics to really narrow down the question. Exactly what parts of the ant are replaced by a lion's? Ants are very different from lions in lots of ways. Perhaps you could describe in further, and comparatively great deal what you're after, and ask if anything similar is possible? – Xandar The Zenon May 10 '16 at 4:29
• The question seems to answer all the comments now, so I don't believe that it is still unclear. – Brythan May 16 '16 at 4:08

I will assume that physical appearance is what you are asking for.

The appearance of the exoskeleton of the ant could be mimicked by a turtle-like extension of the internal skeletal structure.

The appearance of ant-like legs could be antelope-like.

Convergent evolution can result in creatures that look remarkably alike while not being closely related in any way.

• Kind of a let down answer, but essentially correct. Like AndreiRom says, having an insect the size of a lion doesn't work because of their physiology. The best you could do is an actual mammal who evolved parts that happen to look like other animals. I would actually go with skin closer to a rhino's but smoother, but otherwise the hardest thing to explain would be the extra pair of legs. – D.Spetz May 9 '16 at 17:53

Well, due to the physiology of an ant I don't believe that they could ever be bigger than .. well .. an insect.

Ants have an open circulatory system that pumps blood called haemolymph. Unlike a mammal’s circulatory system an ant’s body functions as an open system (most of their body is simply one "big" blood bag).

Their system is highly dependent on the pressure difference between the inside and outside of their bodies to function properly, which -basically- severely limits their size.

The end result is that any insect with this sort of circulatory system cannot grow to the sizes you're specifying. The creature you're requesting might look like an ant with the head of a lion, yet have some kind of crazy alien physiology "under the hood".

As to whether an ant (a tiny, normal one) could have a head shaped like a lions'? I guess anything is possible. Although ants don't need teeth, per se.

The answer is basically yes, through convergent evolution, but you have to decide which ant features you want, and which lion features you want.

Do you want lion size? Then it has to have lungs like vertebrates, or more richly-oxygenated atmosphere, like earth in the past.

Do you want it to have six legs? Then probably an ant-like thing would evolve to have a face and mane like a lion, more easily than a lion-like thing would evolve an third pair of legs. An example of this is where animals evolve to mimic dangerous animals, without actually being dangerous themselves. Some snakes evolved colors to look like other, venomous snakes, when they themselves are not venomous. Certain caterpillars have evolved to look like dangerous snakes. So, an ant could evolve a head that looks like a lion, but not actually change their morphology. This is a caterpillar that mimics a venomous snake.

So you are going to have to pick and choose your features, and then decide how each one could get there.

• +1 for the snake caterpillar and the suggestion that things can "look" like something but don't actually have to be that something. Since ants have tiny hairs all over anyway, it wouldn't be a far stretch for those hairs to be denser and longer on the back of the head. Not sure exactly why, but seems possible. Also given the various head/jaw designs in the real ant-world, evolving mandibles or a shape that resembled a lion would also be possible; again, not sure why, but why not. – coblr May 9 '16 at 20:10

By Myrmecoleon, I'm going to assume you mean the beast thought in the medieval era to be the result of a mating between a lion and an ant. For those not in the know, it has the face of a lion and the body of an ant, with each part having its appropriate nature.

The long answer is that there are too many fundamental differences between the physiology of mammals and insects to allow such a hybrid (the result of natural breeding between animals of different species) or a chimera (the result of genetic manipulation) to occur. There are many reasons for this.

Animals are classified into different categories based on specific characteristics which are unique to each group.

The first and largest difference between mammals and insects is that mammals are vertebrates, meaning they have a backbone and insects are in-vertebrates, meaning they lack a backbone. Further to this, mammal species can be identified by the presence of sweat glands, including those that are specialized to produce milk to nourish their young. Insects are identified by having a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body (head, thorax and abdomen), three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes and one pair of antennae. Insects also lack lungs and 'breathe' through air tubes or pores in the skin. These differences are further compounded by the fact that vertebrate blood contains red blood cells. Insects and other invertebrates, on the other hand, have what is called hemolympha heterogeneous fluid that courses through their bodies. Hemolymph is mostly water, but it also contains ions, carbohydrates, lipids, glycerol, amino acids, hormones, some cells and pigments. The pigments, however, are usually rather bland, and thus insect blood is clear or tinged with yellow or green.

While there are many examples of mammalian hybrids (e.g. mules, ligers, red wolf) and insect hybrids (e.g. Killer bees), these are all done between closely related species. Something like a Myrmecoleon is entirely in the realms of fantasy.

• The OP is asking for a way to get an animal which looks like one, not actually breed an ant with a lion. That impossibility was sort of obvious. – AndreiROM May 9 '16 at 16:31
• @AndreiROM - the question was edited after my answer to specify that. – WhataTiberius May 9 '16 at 16:44
• From the very first post, the question asker was explicitly clear that they weren't talking about an actual crossbreed. They specifically asked for an evolutionary way to get something that is similar. – Shane May 9 '16 at 18:06
• "the beast thought in the medieval era to be the result of a mating between a lion and an ant." All questions of hybrids and cross-species genetics aside, I have to wonder how the medievals thought this mating was physically possible in the first place... – Mason Wheeler May 9 '16 at 19:41
• @MasonWheeler: IMO, because they were medievals and how anything did anything was basically either sorcery or god (or both). Dead animals turning to flies, etc. Not sure we really had the whole cause & effect thing understood at that point. – coblr May 9 '16 at 20:17