Spanish twig ants are ferocious

November 4th, 2010 - 5:58 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 4 (IANS) Spanish twig ant workers are aggressive and readily plot assassinations and revolutions, scientists have found after spending four years studying the behaviour of such ants.

And as queens who were persistently attacked and harangued by the workers were far less likely to go on to be egg layers, it appears the workers actually ‘decide’ which female is allowed to rule.

But in Britain, it’s a different story altogether. The workers simply refuse to get involved in politics and will loyally follow any female setting herself up as a matriarch, according to the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Robert Hammond, who led the study at Leicester University, said: “The contrast in worker power between the aggressive Spanish twig ant workers and the apathetic twig ant workers found in the UK and elsewhere is intriguing,” reports the Daily Mail.

“We found evidence that workers do indeed hold the power and, like revolting peasants, the masses are ferocious, with workers beating up and even killing all but one queen.”

The researchers collected 22 Spanish ant colonies and monitored behaviour in a lab, looking for evidence that workers bite or attack potential queens.

Twig ants are common in Britain - but rarely venture into gardens or homes. They live in colonies of up to 200 ants inside decaying twigs and branches on woodland floors.

Past studies have shown that British, French and German twig ant colonies have up to 10 queens. However, their Spanish cousins prefer just one fertile female.

Hammond said it was not known why some ants were more aggressive. “It could be that Spanish twig ants are only found in mountains in small patches so it may benefit the colonies if queens have to find new nests.”

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