Variation in the transition from inside to outside work in the red harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus
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In laboratory colonies of the red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, we observed the sequence of tasks performed by marked individuals. Observations of about 760 ants in three laboratory colonies indicate that ants often move from inside to outside work. However, there was a great deal of variation in the sequence. If trends in sequence were weak because ants do move from inside to outside work but the duration of our observations was too short to see the transition, ants should be observed to stay either inside or outside. There was no significant tendency for ants to persist in inside or outside work, indicating the variability in sequence is real. Ants tended to perform midden work before they died. Foraging activity is low in laboratory colonies, and it may be that ants that would be foragers in the field end up as midden workers in the laboratory. High variability in task sequence, in uniform laboratory conditions, contrasts with the apparently more consistent sequence from inside to outside work in the field. This suggests that requirements imposed by variable external conditions and colony needs in the field have a strong influence on task sequence.
Key words.Harvester ants age polyethism task allocation
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