Nature Blog Network Future Earth: Ant Analogies (4) Getting aHead

Monday, 20 April 2009

Ant Analogies (4) Getting aHead

Meet Solenopsis geminata - tropical fire ant, a hot climate specialist found in hot arid regions around the world. It has spread globally through human commerce and is a major invasive pest in many regions, busily destroying biodiversity values on the way. Loves disturbed areas - a dead cert for a starring role as climate, population and food production find their convergent crises, I'd wager.

Now meet Pogonomyrex sp., a Genus of harvester ants from the deserts of northern and southern America. (Sadly no recent photos from Alex Wild this time, just the unattributed portrait from Wiki). Echoing Chandler in the sitcom "Friends" the connection between these two screams "Big Head, Big Head"! Fortunately a trio of scientists delved further, measuing the head size and shape of both polymorphic and monomorphic species. (Ed: Forget the Australian island "World's best job", surely being an Ant Measurer is a contender for the title?). Anyway, they detected signs that the polymorphic forms were a response to dietary change, and concluded that bimodal shape variation may be a common evolutionary response to seed processing.

The sting in the tail from this train of thought? Wha
t adaptations to specialised roles and tasks might serve our descendents if they need a different societal model to survive - assuming we are reconnected to forces of natural selection or technology allows us to create our own castes? Or will the big brains in our own big heads get us out of this mess first? (Ed again: my female descendents are O.K. with this, just so long as one caste all look like Hugh Jackman).

1 comment:

Tomla said...

Fascinating animals ants! highly organised communities comprised of separate "castes" fulfilling individual and specific tasks for the benefit and efficiency of the colony! working together as one "super organism" is highly effective in the struggle for survival in the natural world. All of this done without a thought! all are genetically programed over years and years of mutations and improvements! We humans would do well to learn a thing or two from this effective co-operation as we move ever further away from the natural selections that drives evolution!

Eciton Burchelli is an army ant that has highly organised food raids driven by the power of chemical trails. they maximise efficiency in several ways including:
using specific traffic lanes for outgoing and returning ants,

also individuals will stop at potholes and measure themselves against the hole, if they fit they will anchor themselves in the hole allowing following ants to walk over them,

over the years of evolution they are also programmed to allow foraged patches of forest to recover! they live a nomadic life for 15 days and then form a "bivouac" at the base of a tree and remain there for 15 days while the larvae develop! during this sedentary period they forage for food every 2 days in an organised raid into the surrounding forest...the amazing part is each raid happens 129 degrees clockwise from the previous raid direction. this means that each patch of forest raided is allowed to recover!

co-operative insect colonies are amazing! very "clever" systems and yet we humans with highly complex brains and the ability to think often struggle to find such efficient systems in out own communities!