What (who) controls larval development?
How do communities regulate their own growth and development? An ant colony rearing new workers has different rearing goals throughout the colony’s lifetime. A founding colony needs to rear many new workers quickly with few resources, while a mature colony will invest more in fewer individuals, splitting the colony’s effort between rearing new queens for dispersal and new workers for colony maintenance. From LeBoeuf et al 2016 we know that ant workers pass many growth-related proteins and an important insect growth hormone, Juvenile Hormone, to larva during feeding. This is a fascinating potential means of long-term self-regulation in ant colonies. In this project we use an automated system to track behavior, social fluid exchange and larval growth in groups of ants and larvae whose food is supplemented with these potentially growth-influencing components. We are working to disentangle the black box of ant larval development, collective control of colony development and explore implications for other types of long-term decisions made by groups.