Teams in social insects: group retrieval of prey by army ants (Eciton burchelli, Hymenoptera: Formicidae)
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Eciton burchelli workers frequently form groups to retrieve large prey items. Such groups have a definite structure. There is a constant relationship between total ant dry weight and prey item dry weight for both individual porters and groups, and this relation is such that a larger weight of ant or ants can carry disproportionately heavy items. Furthermore, all prey items are carried at a standard retrieval speed. This means that groups are superefficient; they can carry items that are so large that if they were fragmented the original members of the group would be unable to carry all the fragments. Groups also have a distinct caste distribution. There is a significant tendency for each group to have a single submajor, the specialist porter caste in Eciton burchelli. These findings which were verified by experiments suggest that groups fulfill the criteria of efficient teams. The biomechanics are proposed to explain the superefficiency of groups. The organization of co-operation is considered as is the role of teams in the economy of these societies. Colony caste profiles can only be understood by examining the role of teams which form a plastic supercaste.
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