Ant Tournaments as Warfare

FROM "THE HUMAN NATURE OF BIRDS", BY THEODORE X. BARBER (St Martin's Press, 1993): pp 140-141


....However, like humans, ants do not always settle their territorial disputes by bloody warfare. Again, going back two centuries, there are numerous careful reports of ants settling their disputes by elaborate one-on-one tournaments in which very few are injured. Some of these tournaments resemble human wrestling matches; others resemble human boxing matches. An early report of such a tournament between two species in territorial conflict states that the ants "reared up on their hind legs, two by two, and wrestled with one another, seizing a mandible, a leg, or antennae. . . overturning one another, falling and scrambling up again . . . on every hand there were groups of ants struggling together, and I never saw any of them emerge from the combat wounded or mutilated." A very recent report on an ant tournament by the two foremost present-day myrmecologists states that

"When two hostile workers meet, they initially turn to confront each other head-on. Subsequently, they engage in a more prolonged lateral display, during which they raise the gaster even higher and bend it toward the opponent. Simultaneously they drum intensively with their antennae on and around each other's abdomen, and frequently kick their legs against the opponent ... each ant seems to push sideways as if she were trying to dislodge the other. After several seconds one of the ants usually yields and the encounter ends.... They soon meet other opponents and the whole procedure is repeated.... If a large and a small ant are matched in a displaying encounter, usually the smaller one yields.... In fact the behavioral analysis of the displaying patterns suggests that during encounters the contestants gauge each other's size, and that there is a tendency among the ants to bluff, that is, pretend to be larger than they really are."



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