Can Ants Shrink and Regrow Their Brains?

For most ant colonies, there is a simple hierarchy: a single queen lays all the eggs, and a caste system of workers manages everything else – food gathering, baby ants, war, etc. The rest of the ants are sterile, only males & queens can reproduce. The colony normally dies when the Queen dies.

The Indian jumping ant, which has forceps-like jaws and large black eyes, has different things. They live in forests along the west shore of India. When the queens die, workers compete with each other, and the winner can produce eggs.

In these colonies, when the queen dies, the victorious female ant’s ovaries grow and it’s brain shrinks to 25% of its original size.

As an Indian jumping ant queen dies, other females start competing for the throne immediately & undergoing a bizarre internal transformation.

According to research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a team of scientists studying the odd ritual found that Indian jumping ants can change brain size.

It is the only insect that can shrink and replenish its brain, thanks to a complex process that is likely to redistribute and conserve its energy as it ages, for a new life role.

When the queen dies, the majority of the #female ants in a colony immediately begin lashing each other with their antennae in a grand battle for the throne. Eventually, a small number of victorious individuals — dubbed “gamergates” – emerge and begin to reproduce in large numbers.

According to the study, gamergates and female worker ants have very similar brains, but gamergates have much smaller brains, especially in areas related to vision and cognition.

An ant makes its way across the leaves of a Lupine wildflower near Delmoe Lake in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National…

Because queen-like gamergates spend their entire lives mating and laying eggs in the darkness of the colony, they don’t need to be able to see or scavenge for food. And, because the brain is such an energy-intensive organ, the ant simply eliminates those parts to save fuel.

According to National Geographic, when the scientists removed the gamergates from the colony, they expected them to die, but instead, they transformed back into their former worker #ant selves, regrowing their brains to the exact size they had been before the tournament.

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