Susanne Foitzik is a proud myrmecologist: an entomologist who makes a speciality of ants (it was a brand new vocab phrase for me, too). Her lab on the Ludwig Maximilian College of Munich research the dynamics between slave-making ant species, which seize ants of different species and get them to work for them, and the host species they exploit. What genetic adjustments have turned a species of diligent employee ants like Temnothorax longispinosus into ravaging hordes of slave makers like Temnothorax americanus?
And what induces the enslaved ant employees to stand up in revolt, killing their oppressor’s pupae? (This isn’t metaphorical; it actually occurs). Ant eggs and larvae don’t but make a species-specific scent, so the enslaved nursemaids caring for them suppose they’re rearing the younger of their very own colony. As soon as the babes hit the pupal stage, although, they begin to stink just like the slave-makers they’re destined to grow to be and their caretakers understand they’ve been duped. At that time they “chew the defenseless younger bugs to loss of life, rip them to shreds, and throw them out of the nesting chamber.”
A labor of affection
Dr. Foitzik actually, actually loves ants—even the slave-making variety. That love shines via on each web page of her new ebook, Empire of Ants: The Hidden Worlds and Extraordinary Lives of Earth’s Tiny Conquerors, co-authored with Olaf Fritsche. She loves them a lot, the truth is, that she’s chosen to start out every chapter together with her charming drawings of various ant species engaged of their each day actions (see instance above).
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