social insects

Myrmecos

Tag archives for social insects

While in sunny Florida last summer (ah, sunshine! I vaguely remember what that looks like), I spent an hour peering into a nest of little Dorymyrmex elegans. These slender, graceful ants are among Florida’s more charming insects. Every few minutes, though, the flow of elegant orange insects out of the nest was interrupted by a…

Zootermopsis

If you think of termites as pasty white squishy things, here’s one that’ll jar your preconceptions. Zootermopsis dampwood termites of western North America have large soldiers- over a centimeter long- that are muscular and well armored. Soldiers are deployed not against predators but against other termites, as colonies within a single rotting log fight when…

The notion that insect colonies and their constituent individuals are analogous to multicellular organisms and their constituent cells has been a controversial idea for decades. Is it useful, for example, to think of an ant colony as a single individual? Do superorganisms really exist as coherent entities? Or do insect colonies function more as aggregations…

Basal Ants?

Let me preface this post by saying that Christian Peeters is one of my absolute favorite myrmecologists.  If lost in a remote African jungle and stalked by ravenous leopards, for example, Christian is the first ant guy I’d pick to help get me out of the predicament. Having said that, this paper in Insectes Sociaux…

Trophallaxis

Formica obscuripes Trophallaxis- the social sharing of regurgitated liquids- is a fundamental behavior in the biology of most ant colonies.  One ant approaches another, asks for a droplet of food, and if her partner is willing the two spend anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes in what is best described as a myrmecological…

Her Royal Highness

This weekend we took a trip with some entomology students to the Vermillion River Observatory.  The astronomical function of the observatory has long been abandoned, but the site remains as a lovely nature reserve and one of the closest patches of decent forest habitat to where we live in Champaign-Urbana. The acrobat ant Crematogaster lineolata…

The Slave Rebellion is Here!

Achenbach, A., Foitzik, S. 2009. FIRST EVIDENCE FOR SLAVE REBELLION: ENSLAVED ANT WORKERS SYSTEMATICALLY KILL THE BROOD OF THEIR SOCIAL PARASITE PROTOMOGNATHUS AMERICANUS .  Evolution, Online Early, doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00591.x Abstract: During the process of coevolution, social parasites have evolved sophisticated strategies to exploit the brood care behavior of their social hosts. Slave-making ant queens invade…

Those of you who were into ants in the early ’90s might remember SimAnt, a simulation game where you control the decisions your ants make to steer a colony to dominance over a competing species in a suburban lawn. The game is based, in part, on the optimality equations summarized in Oster & Wilson’s 1978…

New Study: Older Ants are Better Workers

A study out in pre-print by Muscedere, Willey, and Traniello in the journal Animal Behaviour finds little support for a long-held idea that worker ants change specializations to perform different types of work as they age.  By creating colonies out of different age classes in the ant Pheidole dentata, the researchers showed that older workers…

Who is supposed to read The Superorganism? I can’t really tell.  While I’m enjoying Holldobler & Wilson’s latest tome, I am perplexed at the book’s target audience.  The text switches between broadly anthropomorphic prose clearly aimed for a general audience and obtuse jargon digestible only by the experienced biologist. I get the feeling that the…