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article imageAre ants prudes, or just really hung up?

By Paul Wallis     Jan 15, 2009 in Science
OK, forget about dropping in on your local ant colony with a message of Free Love. They’re not into it. Sending them Viagra spam on your computer won’t help, either. They’re actually more like nuns than Amazons. Think of nuns with two foot long jaws
Studies have now shown that some ants can have sex if they want, but there’s a catch: They get killed for it. Not a recipe for a great sex life, by most criteria.
It’s been known for a while now that other female ants were capable of reproduction, but they, like bees, apparently happen when the queen is removed. When a new queen is established, it’s back to Celibacy City.
Just to get a bit more difficult, the sexually active ants have an Achilles heel, six of them. They give off a different smell. The smell causes the other ants to attack. Apparently queen ants, if they detect a possible rival, mark her with that smell, and the other ants attack.
While on the face of it there’s reason to believe it could be a great breakthrough to try this in Western politics, where genitalia appear to obstruct thought and everything else disproportionately, there’s a catch.
This is the social plan of one of the most successful forms of life on Earth. Humans apparently aren’t that far above them, according to TIME Magazine:
Humans do more or less the same thing, they just seem to get stepped on less frequently.
All manner of lawsuits, divorces and blood feuds can erupt over people breeding when — or with whom — they oughtn't. Often, the methods used to expose the cheaters aren't terribly different from those of the ants: more than one philanderer, after all, has been exposed by a whiff of the wrong perfume on his clothes when he came home. "The idea that social harmony is dependent on strict systems to prevent and punish cheating seems to apply to most successful societies," Liebig (biologist Jürgen Liebig who with Adrian Smith of Arizona State University) explained in a comment released with his paper.
Which, of course is why human society is so successful, and human history is such an affectionate thing.
The ability to mimic an 100 million year old insect with a brain weighing less than a gram is purely coincidental.
I was looking for keywords for this article, and I came up with “social celibacy”.
There are times when having a perverse vocabulary is a lot of fun…
More about Ants, Sexual behavior, Social celibacy
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