Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Rare Ant May Help Solve Some Mysteries Of Social Evolution

Date:
January 29, 2004
Source:
Ohio State University
Summary:
Last fall, ecologists at Ohio State University cracked open an acorn they had found in an Ohio park and discovered a colony of extremely rare ants. They had uncovered Leptothorax minutissimus, an ant species that has been found in only four other areas of the eastern United States.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Last fall, ecologists at Ohio State University cracked open an acorn they had found in an Ohio park and discovered a colony of extremely rare ants.

They had uncovered Leptothorax minutissimus, an ant species that has been found in only four other areas of the eastern United States. The researchers found the acorn at a Columbus metro park -- the first time the ant has been found in Ohio.

"What makes this find special is the lifestyle of these ants," said Joan Herbers, an ant expert and a professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State.

L. minutissimus is a unique social parasite in that it lives entirely within the colonies of other ant species. But unlike parasitic slave-maker ants, which raid and virtually destroy the colonies of unsuspecting hosts, L. minutissimus appears to move in and live amiably with its host. Such organisms are called inquilines.

This relationship intrigues Herbers, who is planning a new study to learn more about these unique ants.

The first and only written description of L. minutissimus is from 1942, when researchers found a colony in Washington, D.C. Since then, colonies have been found at sites in West Virginia, Indiana and on Long Island. And these colonies of anywhere from 50 to 100 ants thrive in the tiniest places -- old acorns, hickory nuts, hollow twigs and grasses.

"They're like gold when you find them," said Herbers, who is also dean of Ohio State's College of Biological Sciences.

These tiny ants that grow to around 3 millimeters long -- about the length of the writing tip of a ball point pen -- are a rich golden color. But it's how they interact with their hosts that make them a real scientific find. Studying these behaviors closely may give researchers insight into some of the riddles of social evolution.

While L. minutissimus is a parasite, it doesn't appear to stage the bloodthirsty coups common to its slave-maker ant relatives. Rather, it behaves much like the unwelcome in-laws who come to visit for an undetermined length of time. Numerous L. minutissimus queens move into a new colony and attach themselves to host queens.

But researchers aren't sure how L. minutissimus moves from colony to colony, as it apparently lacks the worker ants that, in other species, are responsible for scouting out new dwellings.

"L. minutissimus is highly specialized because it's lost its worker caste through evolution," Herbers said. Researchers believe this to be true because no L. minutissimus slave-making worker ants have ever been found.

In slave-making ant species, specialized workers raid colonies to secure the labor force needed to forage for food, care for the queen and so on. Slave-makers therefore rely on overt aggression to make a living, but L. minutissimus is apparently accepted into host colonies without any violence.

Assuming that slave-making worker ants are solely responsible for finding new colonies has left researchers wondering how L. minutissimus queens travel from colony to colony.

"Perhaps these queens go out and mate and find colonies that way," Herbers said. "But we just don't know."

During mating season, ant queens grow wings in order to fly around and find males. The wings either fall off or are bitten off by the queen once mating is over.

"We think that the L. minutissimus ants are even more highly evolved than slave-making ants simply because these queens seem to get by quite well on their own," Herbers said. "The fundamental question we hope to answer is what happens in an evolutionary sense as the interactions between parasites and hosts proceed over time."

This summer, Herbers and her colleagues will conduct laboratory experiments comparing the behavior of L. minutissimus to two species of slave-making ants. Each parasite will have a chance to move into a colony of a fairly common host species, Leptothorax curvispinosus.

"We're going to look at the impact each parasite has on the host," Herbers said, adding that each species will be housed in separate plastic boxes. A filter paper bridge will connect boxes of parasitic ants to boxes of host ants.

The researchers will also put the parasitic species in groups of two and three and let them loose on the host. The idea is to see how and if the parasites interact with each other, and who dominates in those interactions.

"Slave-maker behavior ranges from the all-out ruthless and bloody annihilation of another ant colony to slave-maker ants that have a more harmonious relationship with their host," Herbers said. "We want to know what separates the behavior of one species from another, what makes one more ruthless than another, and to see if we can get more insight into the key evolutionary differences between these parasitic ants."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Ohio State University. "Rare Ant May Help Solve Some Mysteries Of Social Evolution." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 January 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/01/040129072935.htm>.
Ohio State University. (2004, January 29). Rare Ant May Help Solve Some Mysteries Of Social Evolution. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/01/040129072935.htm
Ohio State University. "Rare Ant May Help Solve Some Mysteries Of Social Evolution." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/01/040129072935.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Working Mother DIY: Pumpkin Pom-Pom

Working Mother DIY: Pumpkin Pom-Pom

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) How to make a pumpkin pom-pom. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goofy Dinosaur Blends Barney and Jar Jar Binks

Goofy Dinosaur Blends Barney and Jar Jar Binks

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) A collection of dinosaur bones reveal a creature that is far more weird and goofy-looking than scientists originally thought when they found just the arm bones nearly 50 years ago, according to a new report in the journal Nature. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) The pair of rare white northern rhinos bring hope for their species as only six remain in the world. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Bear Cub Strolls Through Oregon Drug Store

Raw: Bear Cub Strolls Through Oregon Drug Store

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) Shoppers at an Oregon drug store were surprised by a bear cub scurrying down the aisles this past weekend. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins