Lazy Worker Ants

Charlotte Kuijpers
October 20th 2017

When looking at a crowded street from far above, it’s easy to make the comparison between humans and ants and think “we’re just like ants, aren’t we?”. Swarming around, running from place to place: we can be quite busy creatures. Although there are some crucial differences between us and them, ants can give us some interesting insights into our own systems, by showing us theirs.

Ant colonies are complex social systems. They are efficient and self-organizing. Nevertheless, a large number of ants inside the colony are inactive workers. Those lazy ants can be seen spending time completely immobile, while their busy colleagues are basically "running the company". However, those inactive insects may, in their own way, serve a certain purpose.

A recent study on ants explored the function of inactive ants. The researchers tested whether colonies of ants replace active or inactive workers when they are removed. The research proved that a small amount of busy worker ants is quickly (within one week) restored to the original number. Removing inactive ants does not directly result in a replacement with new lazy ants.

So, while inactive ants seem lazy, they are just waiting for new job openings. They act as labor force in reserve and enable colonies to jump at new opportunities and respond to worker loss. Couch potato ants are ultimately what keeps the colony flexible and adaptable to change.

Source: Boing Boing

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