Washington: In a new research, scientists have found that some ants have developed sophisticated group strategies to save their colonies from travesties like famines and poisonings.
Ants “have evolved to great ecological success over millions of years and hence are likely to have found a solution,” lead author Ana Sendova-Franks told Discovery News.
For the research, Sendova-Franks, an associate professor of biometry and animal behavior at the University of the West of England, and her team collected four Temnothorax albipennis colonies in Dorset and housed them in man-made nests.
The researchers did not give the ants food or water for 48 hours, which is actually a mild deprivation representing “the normal level of hunger of ant colonies in the field,” Sendova-Franks said.
Some colonies can survive up to eight months of starvation.
Before and after providing food on the third day, the scientists tracked each individual worker ant.
During famine, some worker ants that normally were active outside of the colony stayed put, retaining food and getting new food from foragers.
When other ants then needed a boost, the stay-at-home ants shared their food using mouth-to-mouth regurgitation.
These “living silos are a completely new discovery,” according to Sendova-Franks.
She explained that “they could act as both testers for food toxicity and also as food stores.”
These “living silos” tended to be older ants, with younger brood workers kept more out of harm’s way.
But, those ants weren’t the colonies’ only defense.
Although 95 percent of workers were fed at least once within 30 minutes of the famine’s end, the system of food distribution meant that food was mixed and diluted, again reducing the threat of poisoning.
Since the new food and its distribution were located mostly outside of the colony’s center, the queen, larvae and brood workers can enjoy relative safety, perhaps being fed by the surviving “living silos.”
Poisons set out by humans aren’t the only threat.
Ants encounter natural toxins too, from new food sources to foods that ferment, so the ant’s defensive tactics likely evolved long before the emergence of modern insect repellents.
First Published: Monday, January 11, 2010, 16:13