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Slave Ants Revolt

November 5, 2008

Enslaved ants rebel when something just doesn’t smell right.


A slave ant’s revolt….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In the northeastern United States, one ant species raids the nests of a smaller species and kidnaps the babies, which are turned into slaves. The slaves do most of their captors’ work, and even raise the queen’s offspring. But even with all these free nannies, surprisingly few of the queen’s young actually survive to adulthood. This according to Susanne Foitzik a biologist at Ludwig-Maxmilians University in Germany. She recently discovered that as the slavemaker queen’s offspring mature, the slave ants sense that something’s not right, and start killing them.

SUSANNE FOITZIK (Ludwig-Maxmilians University, Munich, Germany):
What we think is that they can recognize the parasite pupae because of a chemical profile they have on the cuticle and then they think to attack it.

She says that despite the casualties, the slave-making ants can’t care for their own young, and rely on the help of their rebellious slaves. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.