An introduction to slavery

Ants are not exactly known to be nice to their neighbors. However, not all species solve their problems with violence. Indeed, some ants try to exploit their neighbors instead of killing them!

Enter the slave making ants. These ants actively enslave other ants to do their bidding. There are several ways of doing this. In some species a parasite queen will infiltrate the colony of another species, sometimes killing the resident queen in the process, and take over the colony. Here she will lay eggs, which will be reared by the slave workers. In the end the colony will consist of two species of worker ants, the slaves and the newly born children of the queen. The limited supply of slave workers will die of age at some point, after which the colony will consist of only the slave making species.

Another way of enslaving is by raiding. Here, slave making ants will raid another colony and steal its pupae to bring back to their own colony. The workers inside these pupae have no idea what happened, and once they eclose, will start working in their new home as if nothing ever happened!

Here, the enslaved workers (black) live together with the parasite species (red). The slaves got carried home by the parasites when they were still inside the pupa.

Here, the enslaved workers (black) live together with the parasite species (red). The slaves got carried home by the parasites when they were still inside the pupa and were born inside the parasite nest. Picture by Alex Wild

Why am I telling you this? Well, there are many interesting stories to be told about the world of slave-making ants, and the coming weeks I’ll focus on some interesting stories regarding this fascinating behaviour. And every story needs an introduction first!

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2 Responses to An introduction to slavery

  1. James C. Trager says:

    Looking forward to these posts? Are you familiar with my recent worldwide review of taxonomy and natural history of Polyergus?

    • antyscience says:

      Hi James, thanks for the comment! Polyergus is definitely on the menu for one or more pieces, one of my favourite parasitic ants! Is the work you’re referring to the review in Zootaxa? Would you be able to send that to me please? It seems our university doesn’t have a subscription there (nick.bos (at) helsinki.fi).

      Thanks! :)

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