Lomehuza, or the Model of a dying society
STAGE 1: Infection
By their social structure, ants are the closest beings to man on Earth. Each new discovery in myrmecology (the science of ants) only confirms this.
Before us is a healthy nest of a red forest ant (Formica rufa). This species is characterized by a domed anthill, the upper layer of which consists of a ten-centimeter layer of sticks, needles, dry leaves, and pebbles. Ants nest material is constantly stirred, so that the anthill did not start to rot - this is a kind of forced ventilation. The height of our anthill - 56 centimeters, diameter - 98 centimeters. The dome has 11 openings. The approximate population of the anthill is about 10 thousands of individuals. Under the dome there are rim chambers in which the ants' eggs, larvae and pupae are stored. Even deeper - rotten stump or large branches. Under the ground at a depth of 1,5 meters are interconnected cameras. In one of them lives the queen.
Red forest ants There is a strict hierarchy and distribution of roles in the anthill. The nest is ruled by a queen - a female laying eggs. The working ants are also females, but they do not produce offspring as long as the queen is alive. The life of the queen 15-20 years, a working ant - up to 7 years. Males live only one season, do not participate in the life of the nest and die immediately after mating.
In the immediate vicinity of the queen is a retinue of 10 - 12 ant workers, they take care of her: lick her and feed. These are, as a rule, young ants, since all inhabitants of the nest undergo approximately a monthly stage of grooming either for the queen or for the larvae. Then they move to the farthest part of the anthill patrol zone (its radius reaches 5-6 meters) and there they search for food — by foraging. The ant transfers the found food upwards through the instances, and only from there it is distributed throughout the anthill. Together with food, an anthill is nourished by a special pheromone, a substance that the queen secretes. It contains information about the health of the queen and the state of the nest. This substance is ants from the retinue of the Queen lick, transferred in a special goiter and pass each other along the chain. Thus, all individuals of ant society are included in a single information space.
The anthill has its own punishment system. For example, if a healthy forager ant returns to an anthill several times in a row with nothing, it is “executed” - killed and allowed to feed itself. It is curious that in a completely different way ants come to those who have lost their ability to work as a result of injury. They are fed until they are able to ask for food, that is, tapping with antennae on certain parts of the head of a healthy ant.
Ants are active predators, but at the same time they keep “livestock”. His role is played by aphid, and ants are eaten not only by her, but also by her excretions. This is not a form of parasitism, because without ant care, the aphid dies much earlier from other predators. Ants herd aphids on nearby plants, protect them. And on demand, the aphid gives them excess nectar. In order to “milk out” the aphids, the ant tickles the belly of its antennae.
But sometimes a small light-brown bug, lomehuz, sits on an anthill. The bug penetrates into the rim chamber, where the ant offspring is stored, and lays eggs there. To all attempts of the inhabitants of the nest to deal with an outsider, he responds by emitting a special substance, which the ants immediately lick and fall into a state of euphoria. Under the influence of this substance, they simply move aside and calm down for a while.
So begins the death of an anthill.
STAGE 2: The appearance of the enemy
Lomechusa - the “draddiler beetle” (Lomechusa strumosa), which our anthill turned out to be - an insect from the group of myrmecophiles. In total, there are 266 species of myrmecophiles - insects and other invertebrates living together with ants. Among them are many parasites. But representatives of this group of parasites either enter into mutually beneficial relationships (symbiosis), or cause damage that does not lead to the death of the entire nest. Everything, except lomekhuzy.
This species was first described in detail by the German explorer Wassmann in the year 1897. This is a tiny bug - about three times less than a red forest ant. Most often, it enters the anthill from the air and penetrates through one of the inlets.
Ants do not obstruct him because they are immediately addicted to the narcotic substance that he secretes. Moreover, they immediately begin to feed him, since the beetle is able to ask for food in an ant way - tapping with antennae on certain parts of the head. Sometimes lomehuza gets into an anthill from a neighboring nest, with which relations are established in a healthy anthill. Infection occurs on exchange roads. Ants willingly share "dragdilera beetles", transporting them on the abdomen. In the same way, they carry with them Lomekhuz, budding from their nest in order to create a new family.
Lomehuza in action
Lomehüza has exactly the same process of offspring development as an ant: egg - larva - pupa - adult insect. A female dragdog beetle lays 100-200 eggs right next to the ant - they are absolutely no different. When the larvae larva hatches, one difference becomes noticeable - its abdomen is concave. But at this stage, she already knows how to ask for food and begins to secrete the drug, so the ants now, although they recognize a stranger, are beginning to take care of the lomechuz larva as their own offspring. Adult beetles live here, in an anthill. They will live here as long as the anthill is able to feed them, putting off more and more of its resources. But while this process takes place under the dome and is hidden from the viewer's eyes. At this stage, it is possible to distinguish an anthill from a healthy antlempus affected only in sunny weather, when all inhabitants of the nest crawl to the surface of the dome to bask. But after a few minutes, the ants drag the lomehuz back under the dome. They also think that they are commanding an anthill.
STAGE 3: New Disease
Until now, the disease of our anthill has developed in a latent form. She could be seen only by an expert-myrmecologist. In the dome cell, along with their offspring, ants nurtured Lomehuz larvae - their future doom. They recognized strangers in them, but could not resist them: the larvae emit a narcotic substance, which the ants cannot resist.
But now even to a non-specialist, if he looks closely at the dome of an anthill, it becomes clear that something amiss is going on with the nest. Compared with other anthills, his life seems to be stalled. Ants are much less active here, the nest's patrol zone has narrowed, and even where foragers still work, you can see the following picture: the ant tries to drag something, but then quits his job and just loiter around.
The first thing that comes to mind is that they are all already “stoned.” But it is not. Those who are under the influence of a substance released by lomehuz tend to sit inside an anthill. The inhibited individuals that we see on the surface are already a new generation of ants. By analogy with humans, they can be called ants down.
In the language of science, they are called pseudoergates. According to the basic plan of the building, these are still working individuals, however, their thoracic part is slightly enlarged compared to a healthy individual. Therefore, outwardly, they represent a cross between workers and females. In fact, pseudo-ergates are not able to lay eggs or mate with males. They can not and fully perform the functions of a working ant.
Pseudo-ergates are still trying to do some work, because there are still enough active ants in the nest that make them work, but they do it very badly. However, among the active ants, more and more individuals sit down on the substance released by the “bug dealer bug”, so coercion on their part is becoming weaker. At the same time, antisocial ants are eaten on a par with everyone. Thus, the balance of the expenditure and income items of the budget of our anthill is disturbed, the ants begin to lack forage to feed everyone - the tsarina, the lomekhuz, the pseudo-ergates, and the healthy ants, whose number is rapidly decreasing.
Studying this phenomenon, myrmecologists at first believed that the appearance of pseudo-ergates was due to the underfeeding of the larvae, since ants now donate a significant part to loméhuse. Another version has also been put forward - pseudoergates appear as a result of the disease of the virus tolerated by the "dragdilera beetles". However, then science has established that the reason for the appearance of pseudo-ergates is still the same narcotic substance secreted by lomechus. That is, now in our anthill the drug addiction has grown into a stage of drug addiction epidemic, which determines not only the behavior of ants, but also their physiological structure.
STAGE 4: External Intervention
Our anthill is increasingly rapidly degrading. The narcotic substance secreted by the Lomechus parasitic beetles became the reason for the appearance in the nest of ants-downs (pseudo-ergates), which are not capable of either procreation or active socially useful activities. Lomehuz and pseudoergates are becoming more and more in the anthill. So, more and more freeloaders and less food. A little more, and the process of degradation will become irreversible.
If the anthill were more numerous, the process could take a long time: the dragdaler beetles reproduce more slowly than the ants, they simply would not keep up with population growth, hitting only some sectors of the nest. But our anthill is small, so save it can only external intervention - cleaning.
We should hurry. Cleaning an anthill from lomekhuz is possible until the anta-downs had time to breed in large numbers. For cleaning, we will need two containers (ordinary buckets with tight lids will fit), a large piece of polyethylene of 1,5 size per 1,5 meter, rubber gloves and a shovel. We find the healthiest sector of the anthill, cut it off with a spatula, like a piece of cake, quickly move it into a bucket - along with ants, larvae, eggs and nesting material - and tightly close the lid. Then pour the contents of the bucket with ants in small portions on the polyethylene and carefully sort out. So, as we pick up cereal for porridge: we simply move healthy ants and nesting material from one heap to another. “Zhukov-dragdilerov” and hopelessly sick ants-downs (pseudo-ergates) catch, we press and throw away. Each cleaned portion of the anthill is immediately moved to the second bucket.
Lomehuz is easy to recognize - they are very different from ants in size (they are smaller in 2-3) and in color (bright brown). More difficult with pseudo-ergats - they hardly differ from healthy ants. But they are given behavior. Healthy individuals immediately begin to perform their functions: foragers collect building material scattered throughout polyethylene, nesting ants are concerned about larvae and eggs, guard ants bite the offender. Only pseudo-ergats loiter without work.
The whole cleaning procedure took us a little over an hour. Dead lomechuzes and pseudo-ergates fit in one faceted glass - we prepared some of them for scientific purposes. During the cleaning, we caught one female queen, but even if they all remained in the infected nest, it was possible not to worry: just in August, the ants began to swarm - the mating season. Winged females and males appear in the nest; they actively mate in the air and there is no shortage of fertilized females. Now it remains only to find a place for the surviving anthill.
And no one will help those who remained in the nest affected by Lomechusi.
STAGE 5: Afterlife
The previous stages of the experiment showed that an anthill, affected by lomechusas ("dragdilera beetles" parasitizing with the help of a narcotic substance secreted by them), inevitably perishes. The only chance for salvation is to resort to forced cleaning, manually removing lomehuz and hopelessly sick ants (pseudo-ergates). Unfortunately, our anthill was hit by an epidemic of drug addiction so much that it was possible to save only part of the nest. Rescued individuals are now in our bucket, tightly closed lid.
Now you need to find a place where they could settle down and establish a new nest. Red forest ants love moisture, so the edges and glades disappear immediately. The best place is in a forest that is identical in composition to where our previous anthill was located. A prerequisite - the distance from the parent jack must be at least a kilometer. Otherwise, our healthy ants will simply return to the perishing anthill, and nothing will save them. Neighborhood with other nests, even if they are not affected by lomechuses, is also undesirable: their inhabitants are likely to react to aliens by a hostile and nascent anthill will be plundered. There are some species of forest slave owners, which capture the larvae from other nests and then grow slaves for themselves.
Finally, we found the perfect place - in the spruce forest, next to a small rotten stump. Carefully pour out the contents of the bucket, and the ants instantly begin to settle in a new place. The queen and nesting ants dig burrows in the ground, other individuals place larvae and eggs in them, some collect nesting material that has been poured out of the nest, and the fourth begin to patrol the area. The land, extracted during the construction of holes, immediately goes to erect a shaft around the future nest - this is similar to human cities characteristic of all settlements of red forest ants. To speed up the construction, you can sketch around the circumferential shaft of leaves, twigs, sawdust - the ants immediately pick them up and use them.
Compared with how it happens in nature, our anthill is built in more difficult conditions. Usually, a family, forming a new nest, does not break ties with the mother nest and for a long time receives help and support from there. Nevertheless, even in conditions of complete isolation, our anthill is being reborn and on the third day acquires its usual outlines. After another 3 of the day, the dome grows to 15 centimeters, and a week later our anthill is no different from the old one.
Two weeks later, on the site of the first anthill, we found a mound, which had already begun to overgrow with grass. There are no more ants here, there is no one to sort out the nesting material, the dome ceased to be aired and began to rot.
And at the new location, the dome has grown another 5 centimeters. This nest is no longer scary "dragdilera beetles". The science of ants - myrmecology has long established an interesting fact: an anthill purified from lomehuz acquires immunity against their narcotic substance. Why - scientists do not know, but it is.
- Mamlin Cyril
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