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Ants' Behavior Similar to Mafia's, Report Says

Entomology

September 07, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Brazilian dinosaur ants and Mafia-style gangs have a lot in common, according to British researchers. Both live in tight-knit groups with dominant leaders who use strong-arm tactics to control their opponents and give the "kiss of death" to rivals who challenge their authority, according to entomologist Francis Ratnieks of the University of Sheffield.

Dinosaur ants, which can grow to 1.6 inches long, live in small colonies with only one breeding ant, known as the "mother ant." Unlike other ant species, the mother ant is not a queen but a mated worker.

"If the mother ant has her position threatened by another female, she will wipe her sting against the pretender, leaving behind a distinctive chemical mixture," Ratnieks said.

Lower-ranking ants detect the chemical and punish the challenger, sometimes killing her, he reported in Thursday's issue of Nature.

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