Science

Ants Climb Up Corporate Ladder As They Get Older

By Nina Sen , Apr 22, 2013 05:00 PM EDT

Most ants climb up the "career ladder" as they get older, a new study says. Researchers from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland found that ants have a career trajectory through their life that can change as they get older and is not set in stone. 

The researchers put sensors on 1,000 ants across six colonies that let the researchers observe the ants' every move over the course of 41 days. Most of the ants were carpenter ants (Camponotus fellah). The sensors generated a vast dataset containing 2,433,250,580 individual ant positions and 9,363,100 social interactions.

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 ant that removes waste from the nest and deposits it in a designated rubbish area. The oldest ants tended to be foragers. Foragers leave the nest to find food and bring it back to the nest.

However, the researchers did find older ants that were nurses and younger ants that were foragers. And there were even some young ants that went straight to a cleaner or forager job without being a nurse. But most ants didn't seem to venture out of their comfort zone.

"Workers exhibited a preferred behavioral trajectory, moving from nursing to cleaning to foraging as they age," the researchers write in a release.

The researchers say the study can be applied to any species of ant, as it was conducted in a controlled lab environment.

The study didn't look at size-based ant careers such as the larger soldier ants. Of course, carpenter ants have quite an advantage when it comes to defending themselves. When threatened, the ants commit suicide by rapidly evacuating their glands, causing their heads to explode and the predator to be coated in acid.

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