Nov 10, 2012

saturday med.itations: Trash Duty

In ant colonies, industrious worker ants put out the trash, carrying decayed vegetation and discarded seed husks to the surface. Having trash duty also includes being responsible for removing the bodies of dead ants. Ants don’t live forever, and if they weren’t taken out, they would begin to accumulate in the halls and in the various rooms of the colony – that would be a mess. But the ants have the problem covered.

Ants communicate almost entirely by scent, and they use an intricate language of scent messages. All the activities in an ant colony, including all the assigned chores that ants carry out faithfully, originate as a chemical message that workers of the colony receive through the sense of smell. Each different scent message is a particular chemical compound called a pheromone. Ants transfer pheromones to each other. For example, the queen ant gives an identification pheromone to every member of the colony so that it can recognize other members of the colony. If you are an ant and you don’t smell right, the colony will drive you out.

One of the most interesting scent-messages is the special pheromone that an ant gives off when it dies. This message tells the other ants to dispose of the body. Scientist discovered this pheromone not long ago, and proves its function, they performed an experiment. First they isolated the dead-ant pheromone and smeared it on a living ant. Then they watched as the workers assigned to trash duty promptly picked up the live ant and carried it out to the trash heap. As far as they were concerned, it was a dead ant because it smelled like one. Of course, the ant was very much alive and promptly returned to work, whereupon the trash detail grabbed it again and returned it to the Ant Town dump. Naturally it returned to the colony. This went on until the dead-and pheromone evaporated from the living ant.

The ants provide us with a living example of cleanliness, cooperation, and dedication to duty. The ant’s house has no untidy rooms.

-source: Nature Quest

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