Lazy Ants Are What Make Colonies Productive
Lazy ants are something that you don’t hear quite often, right? But as it turns out, not all ants are industrious and work-obsessed with work, as they are made out to look. Lazy ants do exist, while some are more hard-working than others. And according to a new study, this is a really good thing.
Scientists from the Missouri University of Science and Technology have analysed the motion of ants. The thing that they were more interested in, was the energy consumption in any given colony. They knew that larger colonies expended less energy overall than smaller one, per capita of course, but they didn’t know why.
“In this work, we found that this is because in large colonies, there are relatively more ‘lazy workers,’ who don’t move around, and therefore don’t consume energy,” explained the study’s lead researcher, Chen Hou.
As it turns out, as any ant group grows, the number of lazy ants, also becomes larger. Scientists have realised that in a group of 30 ants, for instance, 60 percent of them were inactive. When the ant group was made out of 300 ants, more than 80 percent of the group was standing still. So, by doing the math, the larger group of ants used only half the energy per capita than the smaller group. Thus, by conserving energy, these lazy ants made the colony more productive overall. This way, the ants are more efficient while expending less energy in doing so.
“Maximising resource acquisition would require most individuals to be highly active, but would also result in high energy expenditure and long average foraging time,” Hou explained.
“In contrast, minimising time and energy expenditure would require most individuals to be inactive, but would also result in low resource acquisition. Thus, we postulate that ant colonies balance these two optimisation rules by the coordination of the forager’s interaction,” said Hou.