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Work-Life Balance: Ants Need It Too

Jan 18, 2017 09:41 AM EST

Humans aren't the only species who are striving for work-life balance. While other animals and insects may have a different approach than "Netflix and chill," a new study revealed that even the animal kingdom's hardest working colonies take time off to rest regularly.

According to a report from the Missouri University of Science and Technology website, researchers from the university observed that a considerable chunk of the individuals in ant colonies rest while the other members carry on working for food and resources.

Furthermore, the team found that the bigger the colony is, there is an increased number of members who rest, as explained by Dr. Chen Hou who is the lead author and assistant professor of biological sciences at the university. In a 30-member colony, roughly 60 percent of the workers were not moving around. When the population of the colony increased to 300 ants, the percentage of the resting ants also ballooned to 80 percent.

"It has been a long-standing question in the field as to why large colonies of ants use less per-capita energy than small colonies," Hou explained. "In this work, we found that this is because in large colonies, there are relatively more 'lazy workers,' who don't move around, and therefore don't consume energy. We found that the portion of inactive members of a group increases in a regular pattern with the group size."

In doing so, the ants who aren't using up their energy actually save the colony's resources and make the entire work force more efficient. This method gives valuable insight that could translate well to human societies as well, given that ant colonies and human communities function similarly.

"Understanding how ants spend their energy in relation to their group and why they do so will provide insight into conditions for individuals that allow a group to perform collective optimization of behavior, that is, in the context of sustainable use of scarce resources," Hou pointed out.

Hou's team also included assistant professor Dr. Zhaozheng Yin and fellow of computer science at S&T Daniel C. St. Clair. The study is published in journal Insect Science.

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