Unlike many common phrases, the saying “busy as a bee” makes a lot of sense, as bees are among the most industrious of insects, but bees are not the only insects known for their productive lifestyle. Bees are, of course, social insects, and just about every group of social insects, like termites, wasps and ants, work constantly as a colony in order to build nests, fight off predators and secure enough food to feed every individual. The towering nesting mounds built by termites can take generations to complete, and bees are responsible for pollinating a majority of the world’s crops. These are big jobs, and ants are no exception when it comes to the tiresome work demonstrated by most species of social insect. However, when it comes to the ant species that are commonly known as lazy ants, leisure time is far more important than the virtues of a hard day’s work. According to researchers, 40 percent of all lazy ants in a typical colony lay around and do nothing while most others work diligently in service of their queen.
You would think that hard-working lazy ants would grow to resent their genuinely lazy counterparts considering their habit of sitting around while their siblings work tirelessly in order to ensure the survival of the entire colony. But according to researchers, these non-working lazy ants do have something to offer the colony. Do-nothing members of lazy ant colonies provide a reservoir of genetic material, and they are useful as a reserve workforce in case their more productive colony members die-off. Also, and more disturbingly, non-working lazy ants provide other colony members with food. This does not mean that non-working lazy ants procure food for the colony; instead, these ants are food for the rest of the colony. Video recording of lazy ant colony activity show that there are four demographics in lazy ant colonies. First, there are non-working ants, that sit around and then there are the “worker” ants that really just wander around the nest instead of working. Then there are the foragers that procure food and contribute to nest-building and the nurses who rear offspring. Fully inactive ants have distended abdomens as a result of eating and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle and this extra fat is appetizing to other colony members when the usual forms of food become unavailable.
Do you think that inactive lazy ants exist solely as a reserve food source?