Researchers find that ants that do not work live longer

Researchers find that ants that do not work live longer


September 18, 2013 Ryukyu Shimpo

The research team from the University of the Ryukyus and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science has found that ants that do not work actually live longer than those that do. The ants that live longer depend on those that work for them.

The research team found this example of what is called the public goods dilemma for the first time outside human beings and microorganisms. The public goods dilemma refers to a real-world decision whereby the result for any individual depends on the decisions of all involved parties. For example, these dilemmas involve decisions in which individuals must weigh up personal interests against the collective interest, which makes it difficult for societies to function.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America will publish the study results on its website.

One of the researchers, professor at the University of the Ryukyus, Kazuki Tsuji said, “The study results help us to understand why human beings help one another.”

In the experiment the researchers used the Japanese queenless ants called Pristomyrmex punctatus. They found ants that deposited eggs instead of working. The researchers confirmed that these were genetically different from those that work. The ants that do not work depend on the benefits created by those that work.

According to the study results, ants that go out of their nests and work have a lower survival-rate and die from overwork because they must cover those that do not work. Ants that do not work produce more offspring than those that work, but their children do not work either. In ant societies made up only of ants that do not work, those ants cannot produce offspring.

Despite it being possible to gain benefit within free competition by taking advantage of those who work for them there are people who help one another. Tsuji pointed out that it is an important topic in the fields of both natural science and social science. He said, “Understanding why ants help one another will lead to an understanding of why human beings help one another.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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