A discovery of the "collective stomach" ants

Researchers at the Center for Research on animal cognition and the University of Sydney have demonstrated that a colony of ants working as a collective stomach, "whose members share the tasks of harvesting, digestion and excretion.

Among ants, food to the nest is reduced by only 10% of individuals: the foragers. It is then regurgitated and shared among all members of the colony. But the nutritional requirements differ between the young (larvae) and adults.

Audrey and Steve Simpson Dussutour just shown that the larvae, which can not move and leave the nest, are able to communicate with their nutritional needs foragers, which in turn adjust their strategy for harvesting. Indeed, by making available to ant colonies, with or without larvae, food rich in sugars or proteins, they observed different behaviors. Thus, when the larvae are present in the colony, the food sources of protein are preferred: they make it possible to ensure better growth of young people. In contrast, in their absence, the ants prefer food rich in sugars.

In a second experiment, researchers have shown that sugar is the key nutrient in the regulation of the harvest. Faced with food characterized by varying proportions of protein and sugars, foragers are able to harvest the same amount of sugar. Another observation, when food is high in protein and low in sugars, excess protein is released outside the nest: the ants are capable of extracting sugar from the food and regurgitate the proteins in the form of pellets. However, despite this, the colonies high with food rich in proteins are of extremely high mortality (up to 75%). For comparison, high ants with food protein lose less than 5% of their workforce.

Scientists have found that the mortality of ants was lower in colonies with larvae. They demonstrated that these ants in part to the toxic effect of protein entrusting the work of handling of food for larvae that are better equipped to digest proteins.

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