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'Contract killer' ants provoke others to attack

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'Contract killer' ants provoke others to attack
Photo: DPA
13:09 CEST+02:00
German researchers have discovered that male members of a species of tropical ant act as "contract" killers. Scientists found that male ants daub young rivals with a chemical scent which induces a murderous rage in gangs of workers.

Others disguise themselves by secreting a perfume similar to that emitted by young queens – often resulting in sexual advances from older males, but no attacks.

Although male ants of all species compete to breed with a queen, most do so peacefully.

But researchers at the University of Regensburg and Institute of Science and Technology (IST) in Austria have found that one species is sneakier than others when it comes to bumping off potential rivals, wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper on Friday.

Dominant wingless male members of the tropical Cardiocondyla obscurior ant constantly patrol the colony in search of young queens to breed with and potential male rivals to attack.

Researchers found the older aggressors chemically “tag” newborn male with a pheromone which enrages worker ants and “contracts” them to kill the young hatchling upstarts.

Vulnerable newborn wingless males which have not yet developed a hard exoskeleton are defenceless against the gangs of marauding worker ants, according to the newspaper report.

Young winged males, generally less aggressive than their wingless counterparts, protect themselves from attack by secreting a scent similar to that given off by young queens - which often results in them receiving misguided sexual advances from older male ants, wrote the paper.

The Local/jlb

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