Cooperation during prey digestion between workers and larvae in the ant, Pheidole spadonia

D. L. Cassill, J. Butler, S. B. Vinson, D. E. Wheeler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Digestion and distribution of nutrients are central to the growth and reproduction of social insect colonies, just as they are to individual organisms. In the case of eusocial insect species, different components of food handling and processing can be distributed among castes. This paper reports on an ant species, Pheidole spadonia, in which the adult workers butcher prey and 4th instar larvae dissolve prey for distribution among other colony members including workers, larvae and queens. To characterize the process, six groups, each composed of twenty-five workers and thirty larvae, were provisioned with a fruit fly carcass, and then video-taped continuously for 24 hours. On average, five adult workers and twenty-two 4th instar larvae invested 12.8 labor hours into butchering and predigesting one fly carcass. Workers contributed a mean total of 3.3 labor hours to butcher the carcass into small fragments. Fourth instar larvae contributed a mean total of 9.5 labor hours to pre-orally dissolve the solid fragments. Surprisingly, larvae did not ingest during the dissolving process. Instead, workers ingested the dissolved prey tissue into their crops and then regurgitated it to colony members, larvae and workers, that solicited for feedings. The cooperative interactions reported here between workers and larvae extend the mechanistic and evolutionary explanations for eusociality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-343
Number of pages5
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Diet
  • Division of labor
  • Feeding behavior
  • Mutualism
  • Nutrition
  • Parental care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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