About 40% of "worker" ants just hang around, doing nothing


Yes, we can learn a lot from insects, I like to think of all the millions of overweight Americans sitting on their couches or scooters and consider the glass half full. . . of meat for the coming apocalypse.



Did you get the key to the executive wash-room shortly afterwards?


Like others I am curious on if it’s the same 40%, if ants cycle out between active and inactive workers, if those surplus workers exist to rush in to fill gaps when large tasks pop up rather than pulling active workers from the line, or what the dynamic is.


It sounds like they are one group, not a rotation of all the ants, as the “lazy” ants had distended ambdomen.


Any signs that they’re used as mobile pit stops to disgourge food into the active workers?


You should get credit for such an innovative modest proposal.



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That was one hypothesis, but it’s not been proven. I did see this in the article:

“In a new paper, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, authors Charbonneau, Takao Sasaki of the University of Oxford and Dornhaus show for the first time that inactive ants can act as a reserve labor force. When they removed the top 20 percent of most active workers, they found that within a week, they were replaced mostly by individuals belonging to the “lazy” demographic, which stepped up and increased their activity levels to match those of the lost workers.”


I don’t know, if I take any significant time off between Thanksgiving and Christmas (“Uncle Birdie and Mashingtons” and “Jolly old Bean 'Round the Greenery” for the brits…), I can get a surprisingly distended abdomen myself in a single “rotation”…


this is why you start with the subcontractors :wink:


ISTR that in bees, the tasks depend on the the age of the individual worker.


I think I have an explanation…


forwarding to my boss…


It’s time for a basic ant income.


Worker ants are females.

Considering that worker ants are sterile females, I do not understand how this “reservoir of genetic material” theory might actually work.

It is fairly common for ants to dump waste material in a specific location outside of the nest. They exhibit surprisingly complex behavior for such tiny creatures.

That was my first thought, too. If ants do it, then surely humans ought to do it too!

Edit: to clarify, when I was a kid I studied ants extensively and I wanted to become a myrmecologist. But then I started chasing computer bugs instead.


What do you think I am, some sort of etymologist?


I concur with the vacation hypothesis. ‘Well, of course we weren’t doing anything while you were watching.’


Congratulation! In a sea of witty replies and amusing angles, this one wins.



Bless you, ants.


Q: What’s the difference between an entomologist and an etymologist?
A: The etymologist knows!