December 11, 2023

Playing dead is a common defense mechanism in the animal kingdom, but scientists in Australia have discovered a whole new example. Entire colonies of ants were found to be playing dead, a collective behavior that had never been documented before.

Predators are generally not interested in eating prey that is already dead, and many animals take advantage of this. The North American opossum is so famous for camouflage that it has spawned the term “playing possum,” a behavior seen in many mammals, birds, reptiles and insects.

The list includes certain species of ants, but usually only individual insects do so when they are at risk.Scientists have now discovered a whole group of prickly strands Ants start to move.

While investigating wildlife nest boxes on Kangaroo Island, researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) came across a box full of dead ants. They didn’t think much of it until an amateur messed up the lines and moved, ruining everyone’s performance. Throughout the course of the project, the team saw the same dramatic scenes repeatedly.

“Imitation is perfect,” said Associate Professor S. “Topa” Petit. “This defensive immobility is known in a few ant species — either in individuals or in specific types — but we don’t know of others that are observed in whole colonies. In some boxes containing colonies prickly strands, some did not stop moving after a while, while others did not. The triggers for this behavior are difficult to understand. “

The team expects that this behavior of group suspended animation, known as death, will be found in other ant species and will help researchers learn more about this little-known insect.

The study was published in Australian Journal of Zoology.

source: University of South Australia