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


“They may also serve as an emergency food supply for hard, cannibalistic times.”


We are all ants in the corporate colony


Not all worker ants are sterile, actually. Some higher-ranking workers, (generally some of the older individuals) produce a limited number of offspring. I don’t know if this is general to most ant species, but the tropical entomologist I talk to regularly loves to mention that little factoid.


Gives new meaning to Proverbs 6:6 :

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways and be wise!

The whole idea of the “lazy” ants acting as reserve energy and labor makes some intuitive sense if it’s true:

  • The non-walkers are probably conserving energy, keeping safer and draining less resources than if they were moving around.
  • Those aimless walkers inside the nest use energy, but are more likely to come across someone in need if help (or chemical signals indicating help is needed), while keeping out of danger and maybe not using as much energy as if they’d been foraging.
  • Foragers are doing a lot of work, but also putting themselves at most risk and maybe using the most resources as well.


If they’re holding little signs they are striking.


WTF? Please come back a link on that! This is utterly mind-blowing to me. I’m 47 and one of those things I know for sure is that bees and ants only have one queen who does all the sexy time.



I found if you just walk around work with conviction looking at a clipboard nobody asks you to do anything.


Sure thing! It’s actually a pretty common recurring theme among eusocial hymenoptera species. Andrew Bourke (1988) is a great source describing the behavior and possibly ecological factors governing it. Sourced from JSTOR
Worker reproduction.pdf (2.6 MB)


Yes, I should’ve clarified certain ant species produce non-sterile workers, but irrc, those are from species that have become far less specialized, and typically have smaller colonial populations. I.e. more closely related to their wasp forebears (foreants?).


Thanks for that!


I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. I’m most certain about the last part.

Specializations have evolved many times and across many different lineages, and to say that non-specialized ants are more closely related to the ancestral species ignores the evolutionary history that separates all the extant lineages.

Also, how do you define specialization? If you mean large, eusocial colonies, that’s primarily where these fertile workers can be found, particularly in colonies under stress. But I wouldn’t call a large colony like that more specialized. If anything, the smaller colonies that mutualize with plants are more specialized, (although that is partly due to heavy control by the plants themselves.)

EDIT: I don’t want this to sound aggressive, I just want to understand where you’re coming from so I know we’re on the same page when it comes to how we describe specialization or colony size.



I believe the phrase that they’re looking for is “Reserve army of the unemployed


The answer is obvious- the ants are working towards a vision


I’ve found a new metaphor for my life!


I’m not a biologist, and therefore neither an entomologist nor a myrmecologist. Last I studied ants was when I was 10 years old, and that was a long ass time ago.

I mean “specialization” in the sense of caste specialization. They used to categorize ant genera in a continuum from primitive to more complex. I.e. there are species of “primitive” ants with small colony size who do not exhibit as pronounced caste differences, as say more “complex” species that clearly divide out into queens, workers, soldiers etc.


Okay, I think I see where you’re coming from. As far as I know, recent phylogenics indicate that loss of caste in eusocial insects is derived, and appears after the eusocial behavior. But if you’re coming from 10 years ago it makes sense that we’d be on different pages initially.


37 years ago.


This was during the era when cockroaches were moved into their own special order “blattodea” instead of “orthoptera”, and termites were still in the primary order “isoptera”.

further edit:

I’m amazed I can remember so many things from back then – I can’t remember the names of people I met last week!


Ah that’s my bad, I 100% read it wrong. That’s pretty interesting! And well done with the names as well