Friday, February 13, 2009

Of Ants and Moths and False Gods

Today my husband told me about something interesting he heard on the podcast “This Week in Science”. Researchers at Oxford made some interesting discoveries about the pupae of the European moth Maculina rebeli.

Somehow the pupae can make an “ant smell” that gets them accepted into ant colonies and they learn to make the same sounds as an ant queen. So the worker ants feed the moth pupae before their own young and protect them first if the colony is invaded. If there is not enough food, the ants will feed their own young to the moth pupae.

Even weirder, if the researchers placed the moth pupae with queen ants, the queen ants would attack it, but then the worker ants would defend the moth pupae and attack their own queens and separate them from the pupae.

As my husband told me about this, I found it very creepy that an interloper could divert resources to itself to such an extent by counterfeiting the status signals of the real queen.

“Yeah, kind of reminds me of false gods,” my husband said after a moment of thought.



In The Doghouse said...

Love the analogy! Great post!