Saturday, April 20, 2013

The career of an ant - Telepolis

Matthias Grabner 21/04/2013

Hot summer, cool winter: these are the typical environmental conditions to which the ant Camponotus fellah faces exposed in their native North Africa. Here the animals inhabit steppes and semi-deserts – the term populate rarely as fit as for the ants. For each rule over their colonies consisting of thousands of individuals a single queen who feels monogyn committed to the people. In the building there is a highly developed division of labor, also in the polymorphism of workers (men are only used for reproduction) is reflected.

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  • While the Queen is up to 20 millimeters long, the workers have 9-17 millimeters depending on the age and function of body size. Life expectancy is very different: only queens live and die with the colony – in captivity reached queens there already an age of almost 30 years. Camponotus fellah is an active, expansive species whose colonies grow quickly and aggressively defending itself against enemies and disturbers.

    is interesting to see how the members of a colony together: The complete construction has a specific smell. This arises from the fact that workers regularly replace partially digested food, called trophallaxis. Isolation of ants for a while from their colony, their own body odor is again – with the result that the animals are now kept for strangers



    The term “queen” deceptive, however, in one respect: Unlike a human kingdom, the queen ants are no commands. There is also no minister or advisor. The social structure of the colony adapts through self-organization. Each ant knows from what she has to do. The nature of this process provides scientists still remains some mystery. Reply promises a report, now imagine the Swiss researchers in Science.

    The scientists Danielle Mersch have a kind of “Big Brother in the anthill” a greater number of ant workers in six different colonies provided with special markers and then monitored over time via video. In each 122-192 pursued ants per colony resulted in the observation period of 41 days 9 million interactions that have evaluated the researchers with the help of computers.

    One of the marked ants (Photo: Alessandro Crespi)

    It was found that the ants form three social groups in the rough. Group 1 consisted of 41 percent of the individuals in a colony (to her was also always the queen), the second group of 31 percent. The third group was a little more relaxed together, other groups emerged temporarily.

    The three main groups apparently had different tasks: the first dealt primarily with the care of the brood. The second, however, roamed the territory in search of food, while the third was often near the landfill of the colony – they took care therefore to clean up’s


    Sophisticated structure

    The groups could be assigned a median age: the first group was the second oldest the youngest. From this, the researchers were able to derive the typical career of an ant: First, they take care of their peers with siblings of the offspring, then she gets transmitted cleaning tasks to eventually move to obtain food .

    The process, which is similar to well known by honey bees, however, takes place not abruptly and not necessarily: Some individuals followed him late or not at all. That members of a group interact more frequently with each other, we know from other species also. Unlike dolphins or sharks, however, the higher rate of interaction within a group based at the ants on the spatial conditions. The animals therefore meet not aware of the group to consolidate their social structure.

    This sophisticated structure incidentally leads to an interesting side effect: The researchers determined based on their interaction data that any information brought in by an individual must have reached almost all the inmates of the colony within an hour


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