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Ants Shrink Their Brains to Become Queen

Harpegnathos saltator, an inch-long arthropod, found in floodplains across India. It has a four-inch vertical leap and the ability to take down prey nearly twice its size. These Ants can also adjust the size of their brains.The study was published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The study showed that scientists found that Indian Jumping Ants can increase and decrease the size of the brain. They can shrink their brain by nearly 20% and undo them in a week. Many other creatures can increase brain size but Harpegnathos saltator is the first insect known to decrease and increase brain size.

The researchers say that females of the ant species use this ability to prepare their bodies for reproduction. This variety of Ants consist of a queen, males for reproduction and an all-female worker class. The queen holds the most important coveted position in the colony.  Queen ants live more than five times longer and it is the only female that is allowed to have offspring.

In many ant families, Queen ants are not born. Indian jumping ants are a species that allow worker ants to compete for a chance to become royalty. When a queen ant dies, about 70% of the females in her colony enter a battle royale-style tournament that lasts up to 40 days where competitors beat one another with their antennae until a group of five to 10 victors emerges. These victors get to spend their days pumping out babies.

When the tournament begins the hormones drive the competitors to undergo an intense physiological transformation that turns them into reproductive queenlike ants which are called gamergates. Although worker ants and gamergates are similar in size, their internal anatomy is very different.

Clint Penick, assistant professor of biology at Kennesaw State University in Georgia and lead author of the new study said that if we take a closer look into the body of the ants we can notice that they undergo a huge transformation. The researchers compared the internal anatomy of workers and gamergates. They also found that becoming a gamergate not only caused worker ants’ ovaries to balloon to five times their normal size, but it also caused their brains to shrink 20%.

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