Mailbag: ant facts

Reader JS chimes in on Krafty’s Ant Domination post:

I think that posts devoted to social insects should be a regular feature of your blog. Recently my mind has ranged widely on the possibility of practical jokes that could be played on these serious minded and humorless species. Dead ants exude a phermone alerts their fellows to the fact that they are dead, and upon receiving this chemical message the other ants grab the dead ant and hustle it out of the nest, where it is thrown onto a pile of misc. detritus. The top ant scientists have discovered that if they paint live ants with the phermone, they are perceived as “dead” and tossed out of the premises notwithstanding their vigorous  struggles to resist. The droll upshot of this situation – paint every member of the ant colony with the phermone and watch them whale on each other. Comic mistaken identity and broad physical comedy would be raised to a very high power in this “mirthquake” at the microscopic level.

Also, in a recent issue of the NYTimes tuesday science section, there was an article about a woman scientist who has developed a technique to identify and monitor individual ants. She discovered that at any given time, a significant fraction of ants are goofing off, and that most ants are not very good at their jobs. Most of the effective work is done by a small minority of ants.

Who knew? Finally, the ants-as-interchangeable-drones meme is debunked.

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