Thursday, January 11, 2018

There are slaves in the ant world - did you know

Pic: BBC
I was intrigued by the cons, battles, mutiny and enslaving acts of these tiny ants. The dark Protomognathus americanus ants that raid another ant genus Temnothorax and drag the offsprings out from their nests to their own territories and enslave them. Sometimes they occupy the nests they capture.
The deception they deploy to do this is straight out of a spy thriller.
The slave-maker queen deploys a decoy who snoops around to find out which nests have large number of potential young slave workers. These workers deceive the other ants by mimicking chemical signatures of the hosts. The would-be slaves then can’t seem to recognise the spy. At times, the slave-maker ants acquire the hosts’ odour by picking up the liquids adult ants exchange with their larvae. The third is more of a disruptive warfare, emit offensive chemicals from their glands that causes confusion in the enemy camp.
The slave-maker queen typically conducts these raids when she lays eggs. The slaves take care of these thinking they’re part of their own tribe. The slave ants work and take care of the queen and her tribe. When they queen’s eggs hatch, the offsprings go out and recruit more slaves.
And the slaves are not allowed to breed.
Here’s the more interesting bit of the story.
The slaves don’t seem to give up without a fight.
The slave workers patiently wait for the enemy pupae to emerge and then kill them. Sometimes they just carry them and leave them far away where they die without food. At times they destroy the enemy eggs.
The tyranny of the slave-makers often drives slave workers to revolt and stop cleaning and feeding the young enemy ants and let them die. At times, there’s a mutiny.
Doesn’t this sound like the human slaves story?