Worker Ants, Army Ants—and Lazy Ants? —Jay Sailors
Most people think of ants as diligent workers, constantly collecting food and building nests. Researchers have made a huge discovery about these tiny creatures: an average of 40 percent of ants in a colony are lazy layabouts.
“They really just sit there,” says Daniel Charbonneau, a researcher from the University of Arizona. Charbonneau and his team made this discovery by painting the ants, putting four tiny dots of colored paint on each one in order to identify it. Then, using video recordings, they tracked the ants’ movements over time.
But why were so many ants idle? Charbonneau found out by removing 20 percent of the most active workers from their colony. Within a week, the inactive workers replaced the ones that were lost. Charbonneau believes that it’s the youngest ants that remain inactive in the nest, since they are the most vulnerable. When the colony loses workers, these young ants replace them.
Charbonneau’s work shows that even in studying the simplest creatures, there’s always more to learn. Ants may sometimes be lazy, but science never sleeps.