When the boss isn’t there…

Ants are known for their extremely cooperative behaviour. Working together they are able to build nests containing many millions of workers, invade houses and transport prey many times the size of themselves.

However, not all ants are always so efficient! Formica schaufussi ants have scouting workers that are on the lookout for food. Once one of these scouts finds a prey too large to be retrieved by herself, she tends to recruit her nestmates and organize a cooperative prey transport.

Formica schaufussi workers. Picture by Gary Alpert

Formica schaufussi workers. Picture by Gary Alpert

However, these nestmates don’t seem to be very motivated at all to bring this prey home! Researchers Simon Robson and James Traniello found that if you remove this organizing worker while everyone is working together to retrieve the prey, the rest of the workers abandon the prey and just return to the nest.

Seems like these ants don’t like to work when the boss isn’t around!

Robson & Traniello (2002) Transient division of labor and behavioural specialization in the ant Formica schaufussi. Naturwissenschaften 8:128-131

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