Big-headed ant majors need to be 20% cooler

6 Jan
Tiny major and minor pheidole ants and brood.

Major and minor worker big-headed ants (Pheidole).

Pheidole, the big-headed ants, are a charmingly hilarious genus of ants.  The typical workers (minors) are small and delicate.  The soldier caste (majors) are just a bit bigger with hugely over-sized heads.  They always make me smile.  The ants above are from a polygyne colony I picked up in a dead branch.  They live in the lab with my fire ants (okay, not with my fire ants) and come on visits when I do outreach.

Pheidole majors defend minors from a pen.

Pheidole workers examine a pen.

These guys are in the news recently because of research that has been done on a rare third caste that occurs in some Pheidole species: the supermajor.  These guys are majors, squared.  Their hilariousness is also squared.  Intriguingly, recent research indicates that this caste may have independently arisen by the same mechanism each time–a mechanism which scientists can mimic in other Pheidole species to create false supermajors.  Alex Wild has an excellent break down of the topic over at Myrmecos.

Pheidole ants and brood in rotting wood.

Pheidole majors (upper right) defend an opened nest while minors carry brood to safety.

And of course, check out his follow up post,  These People are Killing Journalism, to see the media handling the topic with their usual intelligence and dignity.

On the other hand, I do have a new career aspiration.

Mutant Ant Shirt by WearScience
(Shirt via WearScience)

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