Even Ants Have Slackers
Among insects, ants and bees have the reputation as the hardest working. In fact, in both species, there is even the special name “worker” to designate this role. Any casual observer will confirm that ants always seem to be working. Yet research from the biology department at the University of Arizona shows that some ants do very little.
The experiment followed a group of ants over three days, tracking the activities of individual bugs. Researchers marked each ant with a color pattern so they could tell individuals apart from one another, then began building a database of daily activity.
What they found goes against current knowledge of ant roles, but also aligns with some known behaviors.
The hierarchy of ant social life was maintained in the experiments, with specialized roles including builders, cleaners and foragers.
The observations showed that 50 to 60% of ants are inactive at any given time, with some individuals spending most of their time lazing about.
Daniel Charbonneau, the lead investigator, suspects there is more to the story than meets the eye. Mr. Charbonneau notes that there are a number of possible explanations for the inactivity, such as old age or a reserve force needed for another strenuous task later on.
Future research will attempt to uncover the role of the ants who mostly hang out.
Tomer Czaczkes, from University of Regensburg in Germany, not involved in the research, speculated, “The apparently “lazy” ants could also be acting as a reserve fighting force, since raiding, including raiding for slaves, is quite common amongst such ants.”