Bug Blog

Ants That Revolt Against Their Masters

The life of a worker, or slave ant, is a life of servitude, and most ants seem just fine with this arrangement. One exception, however, would be a type of ant that belongs to the genus Temnothorax. Every summer these ants are kidnapped from their homes by a much larger type of ant called Protomognathus americanus. Once kidnapped the smaller ants are forced into servitude while the larger ants proceed to live a lazy and slothful life.

The smaller enslaved ants are forced by their captors to protect their master’s brood, as well as care for the masters. For example, the enslaved ants are forced to find and feed their larger masters, and are forced to keep the various nesting areas clean. This sounds like a pretty bad deal for the enslaved ants, so they rebel against their unnatural slaveholders.

Scientists assume that ants would not show much interest in rebellion no matter how dire their circumstances because they will end up dying anyway, rebelling is considered by scientists to be an “evolutionary dead end.” However, these smaller ants of the Temnothorax species seem to be an exception to the rule. The slave ants will eventually rebel by neglecting to care for their master’s young brood and letting them die, and sometimes a group of smaller ants will work together to dismember their masters. Although this results in the deaths of sixty percent of the slave ants, some researchers still believe that this behavior is still somewhat beneficial for the slave ants since although they cannot save themselves, they can save some of their relatives by reducing the number of master ants. Apparently even ants will not tolerate slave conditions.

Do you think that the slave ants only revolt against their masters because their masters represent a different species of ant?