Ants and the science of theft for slavery
New Delhi: It was discovered long back that ants do steal, but not the tropical ones though. Well, the latest findings by scientists suggest the tropical ones are no 'Harishchandras'.
They have discovered that tropical ants ‘Diacamma Indicum’ are also thieves and steal the pupae from other ant colonies for enslaving them.
Researcher Dr Sumana Annagiri of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata and research scholar Bishwarup Paul observed these ants and found that, they steal pupae from colonies other than their own and turn them into slaves. This theft secrets which were discovered after a two-year long observation have been published in PLOS One journal. The study was conducted as part of Paul’s PhD studies.
Twenty ant colonies, including those created in experimental laboratories and those in natural habitats, were observed. The colonies at the laboratory were kept at 2-meter distance and the ants in different colonies were marked with different colours. It was found that in normal cases theft of pupae was rare as 1 in 250 minutes. But the scenario changes when a colony is being relocated.
The scientists partially destroyed one of the colonies to observe the happenings and found that the thieves wait for opportunities to strike. When the ants in the colony are busy shifting, the robbers found their chance to steal the pupae that are left unattended. It was found that the theft increased to 1 in eleven minutes.
The odour of ants in each colony differs and that is how the ants identify their colony mates. Hence the ants take much care while taking up the job of stealing as chances of being caught are more. And if caught it is literally deadly. So they opt to steal the pupae when everyone else is busy, states the report.
Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences at IISER-Kolkata Dr Annagiri says, “The ants adopt the same method of stealing as human beings even though the ants appeared on earth 15 crore years before humans”.
The main objective of such theft is to reduce the effort of laying eggs, hatching and raising them. The more number of pupae in the colony also means more number of slaves to do jobs, she added.
“We first observed the theft at the ant colonies set up at the laboratory. It was found there was 28 percent increase in the number of pupae in colonies where there were expert thieves”’ Annagiri stated.
She also added that their next mission is to find out the measures adopted by the ants to avoid an encounter with others while stealing.