Putting The Kids To Work

Our picture of a well-organized society is every member doing what needs to be done, smoothly without dispute. We usually point to a social insect society, such as ants, bees or termites as examples of how well things can work. Leaving aside the concept that the society is the unit rather than the individual insect, studying these societies is interesting in that the division of labor and the communication between individuals is apparently seamless.

Normally the division of labor goes with developmental age so, for example, young bees tend brood and build comb. The ambrosia beetle seems to be bucking this trend and is using a version of child labor to build its citadels.

The ambrosia beetle is one of the farming kind. It plants and tends fungi as a form of nutrient. It does this in recently dead or dying trees where it tunnels out long galleries and plants the fungi along these galleries, and everything goes along swimmingly.

Recent studies on this quiet living and previously neglected species by Biedermann and Taborsky of U of Bern, have shown that it is the juveniles who have to do the hard work of mining. The larvae tunnel away all day and the adult beetles plant the fungi. Of course an ambrosia larva’s work is never done. Not only do they have to take part in mining, but they also have to muck out the galleries and look after their younger siblings.

From time to time the colony splits up and founds new ones, but that decision seems to be governed more by the help needed in the nursery rather than on space constraints – a real family affair.

  1. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/09/26/1107758108.abstract

Leave a Reply