Slavemaking Ants

Taking over the colony...


...And the slaves don't even know it!
The word symbiosis generally invokes the notion of two species dependent on one another for their survival, however, peace and harmony isn't necessarily the correct picture in all cases of symbiosis. In the case of the Slavemaking Ant this is far from the truth. Slavemaking Ants are helotistic, meaning they oppress another species of ants into sustaining their colony. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, helotism is defined as a system under which a nominally free social class or a religious, national, or racial minority is permanently oppressed and degraded. Ant colonies invaded by slave makers are quickly overcome and forced to support the slavemaking colony. In some species of Slavemaking Ants, the workers are strictly bred for the purpose of going out and conquering other nests. This colony cannot survive without slaves as the slavemaking Ants lack the abilities to tend to the queen, raise young and hunt for food. Experiments have shown that Amazon slavemakers are separated from their slave, they will starve to death even though food is made available to them. While different types of slavemaking ants may have slightly different tactics, their goal is the same; get someone else to do the work. There are two distinct methods that slavemaking ants use to take over a colony. The first method is to get into the nest, get rid of the queens and replace her with one of their own. This is done in several different ways. Most commonly worker slavemaking ants will raid a colony of another species of ant, stealing eggs and bringing them back to their own nest.  A typical colony of 3,000 slave-making ants may have more than 6,000 slaves working for it. Slave ants gather food, feed their hosts, groom and feed the larvae and queen, and defend the colony against attacks by other insects. If the colony moves to a new location the slaves carry their masters, one by one, to their new home.Another method used by slavemaking ants is replacing the queen of the captive colony. The queen of an established slavemaking colony will produce new queens who leave the colony to develop their own colony. The young slavemaking queen will wait outside of the colony she is leaving and follow a group of raiding slave makers into her new colony. As the worker slavemakers raid this colony for eggs, the queen takes advantage of the battle by using it to sneak into the colony. Once it finds the queen, it kills her and takes her place. The new queen mimics the old queen by consuming pheromones from her body and releasing them to the attending ants. This new queen having mated with a slavemaking male earlier begins to produce new slave makers. Other variations on these hostile takeovers include one South American species whose workers secrete a chemical on a host colony that causes the ants of the host colony to evacuate the nest. In their haste to leave, pupae will be left behind. These developing ants are then taken back to the slave maker nest. Another variation is in a European species that attacks ants that are significantly larger in size. The queen invades a nest by clinging on the rightful queen and slowly chokes her to death.