You are not currently logged in.

Access your personal account or get JSTOR access through your library or other institution:


Log in to your personal account or through your institution.

Preemptive Defensive Self‐Sacrifice by Ant Workers

Adam Tofilski, Margaret J. Couvillon, Sophie E. F. Evison, Heikki Helanterä, Elva J. H. Robinson and Francis L. W. Ratnieks
The American Naturalist
Vol. 172, No. 5 (November 2008), pp. E239-E243
DOI: 10.1086/591688
Stable URL:
Page Count: 5
  • Download PDF
  • Cite this Item
Preemptive Defensive Self‐Sacrifice by Ant Workers
We're having trouble loading this content. Download PDF instead.

Page Thumbnails


Abstract: Worker insects altruistically sacrifice their own reproduction to rear nondescendant kin. This sacrifice reaches its most spectacular level in suicidal colony defense. Suicidal defense, such as when the sting of a honeybee worker embeds in a predator and then breaks off, is normally a facultative response. Here we describe the first example of preemptive self‐sacrifice in nest defense. In the Brazilian ant Forelius pusillus, the nest entrance is closed at sunset. One to eight workers finish the job from the outside and, in doing so, sacrifice their lives.

Notes and References

This item contains 17 references.

Literature Cited
  • ['Anderson, C., and D. W. McShea. 2001. Individual versus social complexity, with particular reference to ant colonies. Biological Reviews 76:211–237.']
  • ['Bourke, A. F. G., and N. R. Franks. 1995. Social evolution in ants. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.']
  • ['Couvillon, M. J., T. Wenseleers, V. L. Imperatiz‐Fonseca, P. Nogueira‐Neto, and F. L. Ratnieks. 2008. Comparative study in stingless bees (Meliponini) demonstrates that nest entrance size predicts traffic and defensivity. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 21:194–201.']
  • ['Hamilton, W. D. 1964. The genetical evolution of social behaviour. I. Journal of Theoretical Biology 7:1–16.']
  • ['Hermann, H. R. 1984. Elaboration and reduction of the venom apparatus in aculeate Hymenoptera. Pages 201–238 in H. R. Hermann, ed. Defensive mechanisms in social insects. Praeger, New York.']
  • ['Hölldobler, B. 1981. Foraging and spatiotemporal territories in the honey ant Myrmecocystus mimicus Wheeler (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 9:301–314.']
  • ['Hölldobler, B., and E. O. Wilson. 1990. Ants. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.']
  • ['Marikovsky, P. I. 1974. The biology of the ant Rossomyrmex proformicarum K. W. Arnoldi (1928). Insectes Sociaux 21:301–308.']
  • ['Maschwitz, U., and E. Maschwitz. 1974. Platzende Arbeiterinnen: eine neue Art der Feindabwehr bei sozialen Hautfluglern. Oecologia (Berlin) 14:289–294.']
  • ['Matsuura, K. 2002. Colony‐level stabilization of soldier head width for head‐plug defense in the termite Reticulitermes speratus (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 51:172–179.']
  • ['Roubik, D. W. 1983. Nest and colony characteristics of stingless bees from Panama (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 56:327–355.']
  • ['———. 1989. Ecology and natural history of tropical bees. Cambridge University Press, New York.']
  • ['Ruano, F., and A. Tinaut. 1999. Raid process, activity pattern and influence of abiotic conditions in the slave‐making ant Rossomyrmex minuchae (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Insectes Sociaux 46:341–347.']
  • ['Sherman, P. W., J. U. M. Jarvis, and R. D. Alexander. 1991. The biology of the naked mole rat. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.']
  • ['Valone, T. J., and M. Kaspari. 2005. Interactions between granivorous and omnivorous ants in a desert grassland: results from a long‐term experiment. Ecological Entomology 30:116–121.']
  • ['Wilson, E. O. 1971. The insect societies. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.']
  • ['———. 1974. The soldier of the ant, Camponotus (Colobopsis) fraxinicola, as a trophic caste. Psyche 81:182–188.']