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These ants are planning a heist.
They don’t have a choice.
They can’t feed themselves on their own, But they’re not plotting to steal food.
They steal other ants.
As the sun sets in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, scouts leave their underground nest.
They’re looking for ants of an entirely different species.
This nearby colony of black ants knows what’s out there.
So every afternoon they block the entrance to their own nest to protect themselves.
But it’s too late – a scout spots them.
She rushes back to mobilize her sisters.
They charge out across the forest floor.
It’s a raid.
The black ants try to defend themselves from the onslaught, but it’s not enough.
They’re overwhelmed, panicked.
The raiders start digging Once they’re in.
They know exactly what they’re after.
The most prized possession ants have… their young.
These white things are pupae – developing juveniles.
The kidnappers use their pointy, oversized mandibles to snatch them up and haul the young back to their nest.
Now you’d think when the stolen ants grow up they’d realize they’re surrounded by strangers….
… in the nest of a totally different species.
But ants don’t really recognize each other by sight.
They use smell.
So the kidnappers coat the young ants in secretions from glands near their mouths, imprinting their colony’s scent onto the new arrivals As they grow up.
The young black ants think they’re at home with their own family.
They have no idea.
So the newly enslaved ants just get to work, leaving the nest to forage for food for their captors.
The black ant’s mandibles are serrated for grinding up food.
The kidnapper ants jaws are really only good for one thing: grabbing young ants.
They can’t even chew their own food, So the kidnappers get their captives to regurgitate food right into their mouths like kind of a pre-made smoothie.
It’s called trophallaxis.
The captive ants do pretty much all the work in the colony, like keeping up the nest and looking after the young.
So the kidnappers can spend their days just lounging in a big pile… until it’s time to storm the forest floor again, looking for more unsuspecting ants to join their ranks.
Hey, it’s Lauren.
How about a few more untrustworthy invertebrates, Like a sea slug that steals poison from its prey, Or rainforest ants that break their promises for a little sweet payoff And check out?
Above the Noise – a show that explores the research behind controversial topics in the news, Like the ethics of keeping animals in zoos.
See you next time.