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Division of Labor Regulates Precision Rescue Behavior in Sand-Dwelling Cataglyphis cursor Ants: To Give Is to Receive

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048516
  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Behavioral Ecology
  • Community Ecology
  • Population Ecology
  • Systems Ecology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Animal Behavior
  • Evolutionary Ecology
  • Zoology
  • Entomology
  • Ecology


Division of labor, an adaptation in which individuals specialize in performing tasks necessary to the colony, such as nest defense and foraging, is believed key to eusocial insects' remarkable ecological success. Here we report, for the first time, a completely novel specialization in a eusocial insect, namely the ability of Cataglyphis cursor ants to rescue a trapped nestmate using precisely targeted behavior. Labeled “precision rescue”, this behavior involves the ability of rescuers not only to detect what, exactly, holds the victim in place, but also to direct specific actions to this obstacle. Individual ants, sampled from each of C. cursor's three castes, namely foragers, nurses and inactives, were experimentally ensnared (the “victim”) and exposed to a caste-specific group of potential “rescuers.” The data reveal that foragers were able to administer, and obtain, the most help while members of the youngest, inactive caste not only failed to respond to victims, but also received virtually no help from potential rescuers, regardless of caste. Nurses performed intermediate levels of aid, mirroring their intermediate caste status. Our results demonstrate that division of labor, which controls foraging, defense and brood care in C. cursor, also regulates a newly discovered behavior in this species, namely a sophisticated form of rescue, a highly adaptive specialization that is finely tuned to a caste member's probability of becoming, or encountering, a victim in need of rescue.

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