• Tue, Apr 23 2013

Ants Have Careers, Too

antsEven though we know that humans are just fancy mammals, there are many rituals of human life that we like to assume are particularly ours, and that separate us from other animal species: Conducting funerals, for example, or creating art. Well, it turns out animals do both. And here’s something else: Animals — ants, in particular — have career paths, moving from job to job, and ascending in rank as they go.

As Ed Yong points out on Nature‘s website, tracking ant movements is extremely difficult because, well, not to be species-ist but they all look exactly the same. So biologist Danielle Mersch and her colleagues affixed little tags to every single ant in their colonies and tracked them through a computer system.

They found that ant workers fall into three groups: those who nurse the queen and her young, those who clean the colony, and those who look for food. As Yong sums it up, “The different groups move around different parts of the nest, and the insects tend to graduate from one group to another as they age.”

Young ants tend to work as nurses, then become cleaners, and finally become foragers. But like the human world, no “career path” is set in stone: “You can find very old nurses and very young foragers,” Mersch explains. As it turns out, groups of honeybees operate similarly, being promoted from nurse to forager as they age. So next time you apply for a promotion or take a new job to advance your career, think of all your little ant sisters doing the same (and be glad you don’t work as a cleaner in an ant colony).

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