Ants, like bees, have long developed a special reputation as hard workers, working tirelessly. But this pattern has no more in common with reality than the cunning of the fox or the love of hedgehogs for apples. Most of the workers in the nest can be idle, according to a new study.
The observations were carried out on the small brown ants Temnothorax rugatulus inhabiting the coniferous forests of North America. Like many other ants, their working individuals have special specialties: some are engaged in construction, others are looking for and obtaining food, and still others are caring for their offspring. However, judging by the results of the work of biologists from Arizona, most workers "specialize" in doing nothing.
In the lab, scientists examined the behavior of several hundred ants from five different colonies, using colored markers to track their movements. For two weeks, the camera filmed the scene six times a day, recording five minutes each. The authors then analyzed this data by monitoring movement (or lack of movement) in individual individuals. So they found out that among the working ants, 71.9% are not engaged in anything at least half of the time, and 25.1% have never been caught doing any kind of productive work. Only a small proportion of insects - 2.6% of workers - worked constantly, as ants should.
Previously, scientists have already thought that ants are far from being as hardworking as it is commonly believed. This was attributed to the fact that activity in an anthill can be distributed during the day between many insects working "in shifts" due to some shift in their circadian rhythms and daily activity. However, judging by new data, lazy individuals remain inactive all the time. The authors believe that this total laziness may be associated with the age of the individual, too young for work or already too old and "retired." However, there are other hypotheses: "lazy" individuals can be in reserve, saving strength in case of special need. Their behavior may have some other function, which is still unknown to us.