Worker Ants Store Fat To Share With Colony Members During Times Of Need

August 14, 2006

In a fascinating new study from the September/October 2006 issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, Daniel A. Hahn (University of Florida) explores the ability of ants to store excess fat and pass it to colony members through lipid-rich oral secretions or unfertilized eggs.

For perennial organisms, such as ant colonies, investing heavily in nutrient stores when food availability is high is a potential bet-hedging strategy for dealing with times of famine.

"Understanding the regulation of nutrient reserves, particularly fat storage, at the individual and colony levels is critical to understanding both the division of labor characteristics of social insect colonies and the evolution of important colony life-history traits such as the timing of reproduction, founding mode, and over-wintering behaviour," explains Hahn.

In order to better understand how individual fat storage tactics translated into colony-level resources, Hahn captured queens of different species and reared colonies under controlled laboratory conditions in nests for two years, feeding the ants a combination of frozen cockroach and moth eggs, mixed with honey, vitamins, and salt.

He then sampled five colonies each of the two different species, and found that, despite similar environments, darker workers and soldiers stored more fat per unit of lean mass than lighter ants did, but the lighter colony involved a greater proportion of soldiers in storage.

"Storing more fat per unit lean mass has been well documented as a tactic for increasing fat storage during ontogeny among colonies of a number of ant species, and now has been shown to contribute to between-species differences as well," Hahn writes.

"Differences in individual-level storage tactics between the two desert species could lead to significant behavioral differences, perhaps in the rate that individuals progress through behavioral development, or in their motivation to forage or defend their nests."

Copyright 2006 by Space Daily, Distributed by United Press International

Explore further: Strange undertakings: Ant queens bury dead to prevent disease

Related Stories

Study establishes a timeline of obesity

September 28, 2017

When investigating the factors associated with the growing epidemic of obesity in the world over the last decade, scientists have identified two events that greatly contribute to weight gain. One is an alteration in the profile ...

Bats anticipate optimal weather conditions

September 20, 2017

Millions of animals fly, swim or walk around the Earth every year. To ensure that they reach their destination, they need to perceive precise changes in environmental conditions and choose the right moment to set off on their ...

Recommended for you

Carbon coating gives biochar its garden-greening power

October 20, 2017

For more than 100 years, biochar, a carbon-rich, charcoal-like substance made from oxygen-deprived plant or other organic matter, has both delighted and puzzled scientists. As a soil additive, biochar can store carbon and ...

Cool roofs have water saving benefits too

October 20, 2017

The energy and climate benefits of cool roofs have been well established: By reflecting rather than absorbing the sun's energy, light-colored roofs keep buildings, cities, and even the entire planet cooler. Now a new study ...

Enhancing solar power with diatoms

October 20, 2017

Diatoms, a kind of algae that reproduces prodigiously, have been called "the jewels of the sea" for their ability to manipulate light. Now, researchers hope to harness that property to boost solar technology.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.