Ants are cultural signifiers of busy industriousness, but a new paper in Plos One reveals that, across species, about 40% of "worker" ants spend most of their days doing nothing.
The researchers hypothesize that the "lazy" ants form both a reservoir of genetic material and a reserve workforce that serves as a hedge against the death of the "productive" ants. They may also serve as an emergency food supply for hard, cannibalistic times.
Analyzing the video recordings revealed that a colony breaks down into four main demographics, according to Charbonneau: inactive, lazy ants; so-called walkers that spend most of their time just wandering around the nest; foragers that take care of outside tasks such as foraging and building protective walls from tiny rocks; and nurses in charge of rearing the brood.
Charbonneau observed that the lazy ants tend to have more distended abdomens, hinting at the possibility that they could serve as "living pantries." Published in another recent paper, this observation awaits further testing to determine whether their larger circumference is a cause or a consequence of the lazier workers' lifestyle.
To see what would happen if the colony lost sizable amounts of inactive members, Charbonneau and Dornhaus did a separate experiment in which they removed the least active 20 percent. They found that those ants, unlike their top-performing peers, were not replaced.
Who needs ‘lazy’ workers? Inactive workers act as a ‘reserve’ labor force replacing active workers, but inactive workers are not replaced when they are removed
[Daniel Charbonneau, Takao Sasaki and Anna Dornhaus/Plos One]
Lazy ants make themselves useful in unexpected ways
(via Beyond the Beyond)
Ziya Tong is a veteran science reporter who spent years hosting Discovery's flagship science program, Daily Planet: it's the sort of job that gives you a very broad, interdisciplinary view of the sciences, and it shows in her debut book, The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions that Shape Our World, […]
A new study on polar ice sheet melt warns that global sea levels could rise by almost six feet by the year 2100, an estimate twice as high as previously predicted.
Next year, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission will carry a baker’s dozen of small cubesats to space, including one that’s home to a colony of yeast cells. That cubesat, BioSentinel, will orbit the sun to help scientists understand how space radiation affects living organisms outside of Low Earth Orbit. NASA hasn’t purposely sent any lifeforms beyond […]
If you’re into tools or gadgets, Memorial Day weekend is your Christmas. Take an extra 15% off the final price of these DIY accessories – all of which are already on sale – by entering the promo code WEEKEND15. LUXJET Universal 24-in-1 Magnetic Screwdriver Set & Repair Kit This small but sturdy kit won the […]
If you can build a cloud infrastructure, you can build a business. Companies are overwhelmingly turning to cloud computing to set up or bolster their network, and it’s easy to see why. It allows on-demand access to processing power, a la carte services, and nearly unlimited storage, all without adding extra systems and the maintenance […]
Does your gaming setup need an upgrade? No need to wait for Christmas. We’ve rounded up the latest tech accessories for your favorite video game platforms. All of them are already sale priced, but you can knock an additional 15% off the final price for Memorial Day by using the online code WEEKEND15. Audeze Mobius […]