July 30, 2007
by: jovial_cynic
Per request by some folks in a forum where I've been posting updates to my ant project, I threw a medium-sized earthworm into the foraging chamber just to see what would happen. Some folks predicted that the ants would attack and eat the worm, and I was willing to sacrifice the worm to find out.

Worms are slow, so there wasn't much point in sitting around and waiting for something to happen, so I closed up the suit-case that houses my ant habitat and checked back a few hours later.

When I got back, the worm appeared to have gotten itself stuck inside the vinyl tubing. An unfortunate end to a worm's life, I suppose. Being stuck, I assumed that it wouldn't be able to eat and would eventually die, and the ants would come by and begin to eat it. I was wrong.

After being stuck alone for a couple of days (I checked on it every few days to see if there was any change; there was none), I discovered something very interesting. The queen moved her brood into the vinyl tubing right next to the worm, and there was a great deal of dirt and clutter in the tube with it. I couldn't really tell what was going on, because the activity had also created a great deal of moisture on the tubing, making any attempt to photograph the event fruitless.

As far as I could tell, the worm was dead, and they were eating it. I decided to poke around and managed to irritate the ants enough to get them to leave the tubing with their eggs, after which I took a little stick and pulled the worm out of the tube. To my surprise, it was still alive, so I put it back into another chamber to see what would happen. Within an hour, the worm died, and I haven't yet seen what the ants are doing with the dead worm... although I plan to check tonight after work.

I have a hypothesis that may be difficult prove.

1. The worm, via excrement, provided the ants with nutrient-rich dirt.
2. The ants, aware that the worm couldn't move, provided the worm with moisture (hence the fogged-up tube) and organic matter for the worm to eat.

But I'm not sure, and I think that my attempts at cramming another worm into the vinyl tubing will end poorly. Or perhaps any worm that goes into a chamber with a tube will try to get into it and get stuck. We'll see.

In any event, it is interesting, and I'm rather excited to make it happen again to see if I am correct.
np category: ants


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