1 Tahrcountry Musings: An amazing facet of the sociobiology of leaf-cutter ants

Saturday, December 11, 2010

An amazing facet of the sociobiology of leaf-cutter ants

What do leaf-cutter ants do when their razor-sharp mandibles wear out?  They let their more efficient sisters take over cutting, while still remaining productive. The cutting ants rest their blades and join the delivery staff, carrying the discs cut from the leaves into their nest.

The interesting piece of information comes from the research by a four-member team of researchers from the UO and Oregon State University led by Dr Robert Schofield, a scientist at the University of Oregon. Dr Schofield says “While division of labor is well documented in social insects, this is the first suggestion that some social insects stop performing certain tasks because they are no longer as good at them as they used to be. As social organisms, these ants have the luxury of being able to leave the cutting task to their more efficient sisters."

Leaf cutters carry pieces of leaves back to the underground nest where they grow an edible fungus on the resulting substrate. The foragers doing the cutting work are second in size to the majors, the large workers that protect the colony and do heavy clearing work. In addition to cutting, the foragers transport the cuttings and lookout for new resources.

The details will appear in the upcoming issue of journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. The study has appeared online ahead of regular publication.

No comments: