I have been photographing behaviors in several Florida Harvester ant nests on my property. These ants have at least two worker classes, one of which has a huge head compared to the others. They seem to have times for different activities, and they all participate. Today might be digging day. The next day is for clearing debris from the nest. Another day is for close-in harvesting and another they send long lines that disappear into the brush. They are fastidious about keeping any vegetation away from the multiple nest openings, so one day they all set about trimming any near by grasses or plants back to the ground.
Recently I had observed several male drones and queens exiting the nest and going back in, as if they are testing the outside world. Several drones did go far from the nest entrance and a few flew away. One day as I approached the nest I saw hundreds of workers in and around the nest in what looked like a battle – workers scurrying here and there, groups of ants engaged in what looked like a group attack, and dozens of drones were on the edges of the cleared area around the nest climbing up high in the grass but not flying way. It looked like chaos.
Looking closer, the brunt of all the activity became apparent. The female workers were chasing the drones out of the nest. Many drones came out and went back into the nest as they had been doing for a week or so. But this time was different. Any drone that venture back into the nest was hoisted by female workers and carried back out. After letting them go, the females would continue to bite and harass the drones until they were far from the nest. The most reluctant males received the harshest treatment. I saw one drone carried from the nest who was missing his head. A few had broken wings. One female exited the nest with a drone wing, carried it to the edge of the clearing, spit in on the ground and ran back to the nest.
I am unsure of the signal that resulted in this mayhem, but drones that are tolerated and fed one day, the females chase from the nest the next without mercy. Perhaps they would not leave on their own. After all, they don’t harvest or help gather; they only use up resources. Maybe they emit a pheromone that triggers the behavior from the females. In any case, when it was time they left the nest – on their own or by force if necessary. Refusal to leave meant death.
And so the drone eventually flew away to fulfill their one task. To find a queen to mate, then die.
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