Scientists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz say they have observed the “slave rebellion” phenomenon in ants on several occasions.
Writing in the journal Evolutionary Ecology, lead author Susanne Foitzik says enslaved ant populations were found in West Virginia, Ohio and New York engaged in the killing of their oppressors’ offspring.
She says that while the slave ants probably don’t realize at first the ant larvae they are caring for aren’t of their own species, that soon changes when chemical clues, or smells, emerge after the young pupate.
Research suggests the killing that follows of the slave-maker offspring lowers its population and gives nearby colonies that have not been enslaved a chance to survive fewer and less destructive slave raids.
Temnothorax longispinosus ants become slaves when workers from the slave-making Protomognathus americanus ant colony attack their nests.
The invaders kill the adult ants, and steal the brood, which continue to work as usual despite being now in their masters' nest.
Photo: Christine Johnson