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Slave-making Ants Go After the Strong Rather Than the Weak

June 17th, 2016

Scientists used to assume that slavemaker ants would target weak colonies when sending their raiding parties to steal away pupae. However, they have recently discovered that they actually choose to go after fewer stronger colonies rather than targeting more weak ones. The ants associate strong defenses with stronger ant populations. By choosing to go after fewer strong ant colonies, the ants actually end up limiting their risk and coming away with more pupae to enslave.

Slavemaker ant colonies don’t actually have their own workforce. Instead they are made up of raider ants that go after other ants’ pupae and take to them back to their own colony to use as their workforce. In a study conducted by Sebastian Pohl and his team, researchers discovered that rather than target weak colonies to get their workforce, these ants actually choose to raid a fewer number of strong colonies. This is because losing one of these worker or raider ants can amount to losing the large number of slaves they would likely bring back to their colony. So, it makes more sense for them to target a fewer number of strong colonies, and limit the risk they take when performing a raid. The scout ants associate the strong colonies with a higher number of pupae and therefore a higher benefit when they go on a raid.

Do you think it is smarter for the slavemaker ants to go after strong colonies rather than weak ones?

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