Ants: Enslaved workers revolt in their masters’ nests

Temnothorax longispinosus
April Nobile / © / CC-BY-SA-3.0


Don’t ant-agonize Temnothorax longispinosus. When the worker ants of this species are enslaved by the parasitic Protomognathus americanus, they fight back, according to this report in ScienceBlog, featuring the research of Dr. Susanne Foitzik of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany:

These ants become slaves when workers from the slave-making ant colony attack the nests of the host species Temnothorax longispinosus, kill the adult ants, and steal the brood. Back in the masters’ nest, which can be located in hollow acorns, nutshells, or twigs, the brood care behavior of the emerging slave workers is exploited to the advantage of the slavemaker species. As Susanne Foitzik and her work group have shown, the enslaved worker ants feed and clean the larvae, thereby raising the offspring of their social parasite – but only up to a certain point.

“Probably at first the slaves cannot tell that the larvae belong to another species,” explains Foitzik. As a result, 95% of the brood survives the larval stage. But the situation changes as soon as the larvae pupate. “The pupae, which already look like ants, bear chemical cues on their cuticles that can apparently be detected. We have been able to show that a high fraction of the slavemaker pupae are killed by slave workers.” The pupae are either neglected or actively killed by being attacked and torn apart. Several slaves at once may assault a pupa, which is unable to move or defend itself during the pupal stage and is also not protected by a cocoon.

via Slave rebellion is widespread in ants |