Study Finds Most Ants Change Careers as They Age

Posted on April 21, 2013

Researchers from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland developed a tracking system to monitor colonies of the ant Camponotus fellah. The scientists tagged workers by gluing tiny sensors on their backs and followed their activity in the colony for 41 days. The Register reports that the scientists ended up with a very larger data set containing 2,433,250,580 individual ant positions and 9,363,100 social interactions.

The study resulted in findings that indicate most ants change careers as they get older. The career trajectory of most ants begins in nursing and involves caring for the queen and her eggs. The next career phase is the cleaner. This involves removing waste from the nest and depositing it in a designated rubbish area. The oldest ants tended to be foragers. Foragers leave the next to find food and bring it back to the nest. The career path is not set in stone. The researchers did find old nurses and young foragers. The research was conducted in a lab setting, so there could be variety in the wild and with different ant species. Some ant species also have larger-sized soldier ants which were not studied in this experiment. Take a look:

The research paper, "Tracking Individuals Shows Spatial Fidelity Is a Key Regulator of Ant Social Organization," was published here in Science magazine.

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