DTY Ant Management
Ant Task Allocation: Lazy Ants Win
Ants' complex interactions lead to an uneven distribution of labor


Ants are one of the most abundant insects on earth. A main reason for such evolutionary favorability is their eusocial behavior. “Eusocial” (Greek, eu = good; Latin, sociare = to associate; -alis = characterized by.) Ants display levels of complexity within interactions, are highly cooperative among individuals, care for young, maintain contact between generations, and demonstrate a reproductive division of labor.

Research shows that ants conduct task allocation between foraging ants, patrolling ants that guide foragers, nest maintaining ants, and midden ants that handle colonial waste. Up to 25% of the colony works outside (once foragers outside, it is permanent) with reserves or inactive ants inside the colony (a percentage of the inside colony does nothing until called upon). (Gordon, et al. 2003)

Ants can switch tasks resulting from a disturbance of the colony. This requires assistance of inside nest mates. Nest maintenance ants may switch tasks to foraging or patrolling; patrolling ants may switch task to foraging; and midden ants may switch task to foraging. (Gordon, et al. 2003)

Many ant behavioral decisions are made at the colony entrance. Communication occurs via a network of antennal contacts that transfers hydrocarbons and/or chemosensory proteins (CSP). The longer ants are outside the colony, the greater the colonial reaction or change. The more disturbed the colony, the less stable the population. (Gordon, et al. 2003)

Researchers have identified chemosensory proteins (CSPs) that mediate communications between worker ants. CSPs are a good start toward understanding molecular mechanisms involved in the intricate system of communication supporting ant societies.
-Scientific Reports, August 27, 2015.
More recent research reaffirms that conserved ant behavior or ants specializing at doing nothing (lazy ants-see image below) are not just taking a break; rather inactivity is a significant part of the ants’ task allocation.

Stuart Mitchell, D.O., is a board-certified family practitioner and entomologist who serves as technical editor for PMP magazine. He can be reached at docmitchell@northcoastmedia.net.

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