Indian jumping ants can shrink and then expand their BRAIN, allowing energy to be temporarily diverted to egg production
- The humble Indian spring ant is less than an inch long and lives in a colony
- When a queen dies, female Indian jumping ants compete to replace the matriarch
- By doing this, they release hormones to shrink their brains by 20% to conserve energy
- Energy is sent to the ovaries, which swell up to 5x their size to make more eggs
- But if the new queen is usurped and returned to maid, the changes are completely reversible
An ant species can shrink its brain by as much as 20 percent, but can grow it back to full size in the future, the first insect ever discovered with such a capability.
The humble Indian jumping ant is less than an inch long and, prior to this most recent revelation, was best known for its ability to leap several inches in the air.
But US scientists found that the insect can release hormones that shrink its brain by one-fifth to channel resources into its reproductive system.
However, if these extra nutrients and energy are no longer needed in the future, the ant can return to its original state.
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The Indian Spring Ant (pictured) is less than an inch long, and females vying to replace a dead queen shrink their brains and use the energy to grow their ovaries. The change can be reversed, a study shows
In ant colonies, normally only the queen and the males are able to reproduce, and when the matriarch dies, so does the colony, as the other females are sterile.
But Indian jumping ants have a different succession procedure, meaning that when the queen is killed, female workers compete for the job.
In these fights each other is stabbed with their antennae and at one point a victor is declared, who then takes the responsibility of the queen.
Exactly how a colony settles on its next ruler remains unknown.
But a team of researchers from the US has investigated what happens when the female champion is selected as queen and has noticed a variety of anatomical changes.
US scientists found that the Indian jumping ant can release hormones that shrink its brain by one-fifth to channel resources into its reproductive system. However, if these extra nutrients and energy are no longer needed in the future, the ant can return to its original state
For starters, her ovaries swell up to five times their original size, increasing her egg-making ability.
But this process is extremely energy intensive, and to fuel it, the ants release a hormone that shrinks the brain in size – a rarity in animals, seen in some insect species, such as honey bees.
The energy saved by decreasing cognitive capacity is believed to be diverted to the ovaries to increase the chances of the female becoming a functioning queen.
But the scientists who studied 30 colonies in a lab found that if the queen loses her newly acquired royal status, her body is able to reverse the drastic changes, shrinking her ovaries back to their original size and rebuilding the brain. bounce back full force.
This reversible brain shrinkage is extremely rare, with the Indian jumping ant being the first known insect species with the ability.
“If you look inside their bodies, you can see the tremendous transformations they are undergoing,” said Dr. Clint Penick, lead author of the study at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. The Telegraph
The full findings are available in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Clever ants use grains of sand as ‘tools’ to access their food if they are at risk of drowning
Ants are known for their teamwork and incredible strength, but they also have another evolutionary weapon, they can use tools to survive when in danger.
The insects were first seen using grains of sand to extract liquid food from a tub when the threat of drowning is too great.
The use of tools is seen as a sign of animal intelligence, especially seen in primates and some birds.
Study co-author Dr. Jian Chen, of the US Department of Agriculture, said: “We knew that some ant species could use tools, especially when collecting liquid food; however, we were surprised by such a remarkable use of tools shown by black imported fire ants.
“Our findings suggest that ants and other social insects may have significant cognitive capacities for unique foraging strategies.”