Group Personalities

We all have different temperaments and personalities even if we can be fitted into a small number of types. In addition, other animals also have their own personal behavioral traits as we well know as we rush to serve our cat’s or dog’s every whim.

An interesting question is do groups of animals have recognizable group personalities especially when we consider a highly organized social species such as ants? Scharf et al set out to sort this out by boxing up 50 colonies of Temnothorax nylanderi, a species of ant that forms small colonies of about two dozen workers with one queen and live in small holes under the bark of rotting trees (1).

A series of tests were carried out on the colonies such as putting in a dead ant from another nest and watching the aggression level, opening the entrance and measuring their efforts to close it up, putting in some rotting ant corpses to watch the removal, and giving them the option to relocate as this is often a choice in the wild.

For colonies that were producing lots of new ants, they were more industrious to close up enlarged entrances so they are prepared to stand their ground and not abandon their nest when under threat. The colonies that weren’t as aggressive towards the dead non-nestmates that were introduced and were not as quick to get rid of the rotting corpses were also more ready to relocate and abandon their nest site for another rather than defend it.

The conclusion of the study is that social insect groups have a range of different personalities, which, in part, is governed by how much they have to lose if they cave in to a threat. Makes ants sound very much like the rest of us.

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