New Research Sheds Light on Success of Ant Forgers

Demanding, rigorous, lethal. Three adjectives that could be used to describe the job of a forager ant. 

Forager ants are the breadwinners. They are the soldiers to a colonies queen, tasked to sacrifice their life scavenging. Dying for the promise of a flourishing colony. 

Yet what is it exactly that makes these foragers so efficiant? That is the question scientists at Arizona State University pursued in a new study

The study latest a year and a half, and 300,000 desert seed harvesting ants took part. Scientists kept track of three main components: the amount of forager ants that left to forage, how many of them died, and how many were subsequently replaced. 

harvester ants
The Harvester Ant genus Pogonomyrmex are known as “bearded ants” because of the hairs under their head.

It was found that the most successful colonies produced forager ants that were smaller in size. These colonies had the largest amount of territory, and were able to produce the largest amount of workers. They also had a fewer number of fathers mating with the queen. 

A thriving colony demands a high level of organization. And that organization is continued in the colonies ability to reproduce. A well-functioning colony will produce queens, winged males, and foragers at allotted time slots through the year. It is in this way the colony focuses purely on what’s needed.

This attempt to conserve energy explains why smaller workers breed a better colony. The colony will spend time feeding those who will stay within the nest, which will grant a longer lifespan. Forager ants are worked until they’re dead, thus spending resources on them is a waste. 

To understand how colony runs, you most put away any preconceived notions of ants. Though they appear to scavenge aimlessly about your scraps and kitchen countertops, hole punching your yard through tiny dirt mounds, by taking a closer you will find a tightly run operation, one that lead author Christina Kwapich describes as having a large “similarity to us.” Just like a major corporation, every single ant has a specific job to do, and is expected to do their job well in order to keep the company running.  (Written by Delaney Clarke)

To learn more, watch this video.
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main image credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pondapple/6502194585