To the casual observer, the colonies of social insects like bees and ants appear to be harmonious societies where individuals work together for the common good, but appearances can be deceiving.
A new study published in The American Naturalist by Eva Schultner and colleagues from the Universities of Helsinki, St. Andrews, and Oxford reveals that in ants, social conflicts occur even among the youngest colony members — the larvae and the eggs.
In behavioral experiments conducted at Tvärminne Zoological Station in Finland, ant larvae acted selfishly by cannibalizing eggs, but levels of cannibalism were lower when relatedness among brood was high. In addition, male larvae engaged in cannibalism more often than female larvae.
“Increased relatedness was associated with reduced levels of cannibalism, indicating that larval behavior is mediated by inclusive-fitness considerations,” the authors wrote. “Levels of cannibalism were significantly higher in male larvae, and our model suggests that this is due to sex differences in the benefits of cannibalism.”
The study involved eight different species of ants, all in the genus Formica.
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