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Thread: Parasitic Ants Coopt Other Nests

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    Parasitic Ants Coopt Other Nests

    Thought this article on parasitic ants that coopt the nests built by other ants was interesting:

    There are three main types of social parasites that form mixed species ant nests: temporary social parasites, permanent inquilines and slave-makers. Temporary social parasites depend on a host species only during the establishment of new colonies. Usually the parasitism is initiated by young queens following their insemination in a mating flight (Figure 2). The queens try to penetrate host colonies, replace the original queens, and gain acceptance by the workers. The parasitic queens then lay eggs that develop, with the care of the host colony workers, into a worker force of their own offspring. Eventually the host workers die leaving only the parasitic queens and their offspring. As a result, a mature colony contains only members of the parasitic species.

    Whereas temporary social parasites typically kill the host queens, queens of permanent inquilines are usually tolerant of the host queens. With a few exceptions, inquilines do not produce worker offspring, but instead invest most of their energy into producing eggs that eventually develop into sexual forms. In the extreme case of the Swiss ant (Teleutomyrmex schneideri), the inquilines have evolved special modifications like concave abdomens (i.e., gasters) and long tarsal claws which enable them to grip onto the host queens and ride their backs as ectoparasites (Hölldobler & Wilson 1990). Despite the burden, the host queens continue to produce worker offspring and so the mixed species colony is permanent. The host workers simultaneously rear the brood of both the parasitic and non-parasitic queens.

    The antics of the slave-makers have made them a favorite among myrmecologists. Besides initiating their nests much like the temporary social parasites, the slave-makers also raid other ant colonies to steal the brood (Figure 3). The pilfered larvae and pupae that are not consumed eventually eclose into worker slaves that are chemically imprinted and completely integrated into the society of their enslavers. The slaves tend brood, gather food, feed their enslavers, care for the queen, and defend the nest against threats. If the colony moves to a new location, the slaves carry their enslavers to their new nest. Sometimes, the slaves even participate with the slave-making workers in slave raids against other ant colonies of their own or closely related species.

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