Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 62, Issue 1, pp 31–35 | Cite as

‘Lazy’ in nature: ant colony time budgets show high ‘inactivity’ in the field as well as in the lab

  • D. CharbonneauEmail author
  • N. Hillis
  • A. Dornhaus
Research Article


Social insect colonies are models for complex systems with sophisticated, efficient, and robust allocation of workers to necessary tasks. Despite this, it is commonly reported that many workers appear inactive. Could this be an artifact resulting from the simplified laboratory conditions in most studies? Here, we test whether the time allocated to different behavioral states differs between field and laboratory colonies of Temnothorax rugatulus ants. Our results show no difference in colony time budgets between laboratory and field observations for any of the observed behaviors, including ‘inactivity’. This suggests that, on the timescale of a few months, laboratory conditions do not impact task allocation at the colony level. We thus provide support for a previously untested assumption of laboratory studies on division of labor in ants. High levels of inactivity, common in social insects, thus appear to not be a laboratory artifact, but rather a naturally occurring trait.


Task allocation Inactivity Lab artifact Temnothorax Time allocation Time budget Lazy ants 



We thank Alex Downs, Andrew Scott, Mary Levandowski, Matthew Velazquez, Neil Hillis, and Nicole Fischer for their help with data collection and ant maintenance. We also thank the entire Dornhaus lab for their ongoing feedback. Research supported through the GIDP-EIS and EEB Department at University of Arizona, as well as NSF Grants no. IOS-1045239, IOS-0841756, and DBI-1262292 (to A.D.).

Supplementary material

40_2014_370_MOESM1_ESM.docx (194 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 194 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Entomology and Insect ScienceUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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