Imagine you are a newly born virgin ant queen. You have dreams of one day flying off, mating with a nice male (or even several!), getting settled somewhere, and start building your very own colony.
But then…your dreams get shattered as you accidentally damage your wings before you have a chance to fly out…forever ruining your chances of fulfilling your dreams.
What would you do?
In leaf-cutting ants, the answer seems clear: you stop sulking and start working!
Volker Nehring and colleagues found this out by taking winged virgin queens, clipping off their wings, and putting them back in their colony.
While normal winged queens generally just hang out in the colony until it is time to fly off, these clipped queens promptly starting doing worker tasks, such as taking care of the larvae and defending the colony.
By doing this, they ensure that the energy the colony has invested in the queen is not completely lost, and thus increasing the efficiency of the colony.
Nehring, V., Boomsma, J.J., d’Ettorre, P. (2012) Wingless virgin queens assume helper roles in Acromyrmex leaf-cutting ants. Current Biology 22(17), R671-R673)
The original blog was published on June 12, 2013 on my antyscience website where I present new scientific discoveries in a way that is understandable for everyone. The name antyscience stems from the fact that it’s about ants science, explained in a ‘non-scientific’ way. So don’t go out thinking I’m anti-science!