Adam L. Beberg
Tue, 16 Apr 2002 04:28:13 -0700 (PDT)

This is just neat.

And it shows how much smarter ants are then humans, yet again.

- Adam L. "Duncan" Beberg

Super Ant Colony Found in Europe
Mon Apr 15, 5:02 PM ET
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - A supercolony of ants has been discovered stretching thousands
of miles from the Italian Riviera along the coastline to northwest Spain.

It's the largest cooperative unit ever recorded, according to Swiss, French
and Danish scientists, whose findings appear in Tuesday's issue of
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The colony consists of billions of Argentine ants living in millions of
nests that cooperate with one another.

Normally, ants from different nests fight. But the researchers concluded
that ants in the supercolony were all close enough genetically to recognize
one another, despite being from different nests with different queens.

Cooperating allows the colonies to develop at much higher densities than
normally would occur, eliminating some 90 percent of other types of ants
that live near them, said Laurent Keller of the University of Lausanne,

The Argentine ants were accidentally introduced to Europe around 1920,
probably in ships carrying plants, Keller said in an interview via
electronic mail.

Richard D. Fell, an entomologist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, said
Argentine ants have been known to form large colonies  the size of several
city blocks, for example  but he had not heard of any as large as that cited
in the new report.

"It may be that certain ant colonies will bud off, form satellites and
remain connected with one main colony," he suggested.

The European researchers said that in addition to the main supercolony of
ants they found a second, smaller but also large colony of Argentine ants in
Spain's Catalonia region.

When ants of the two supercolonies were placed together they invariably
fought to the death, while ants from different nests of the same supercolony
showed no aggression to one another.

"It is interesting to see that introduction in a new habitat can change
social organization," Keller said of the behavior of Argentine ants that had
been relocated to Europe. "In this case, this leads to the greatest
cooperative unit ever discovered."

However, in the long run the very cooperation that seems to make them
successful could lead to the supercolony's self-destruction, he suggested.

That's because in such a giant colony many workers are unrelated to the
queens they help to raise. "Thus, in the long term, selection should
decrease the altruistic behavior of workers," he said, because their efforts
are not helping transmit copies of their genes via related queens.