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Task Performance of Midden Workers of Atta sexdens rubropilosa Forel (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Lacerda, Fabrícia G., Della Lucia, Terezinha M. C., DeSouza, Og, de Souza, Lucas M., de Souza, Danival J.
Journal of insect behavior 2013 v.26 no.6 pp. 873-880
Atta sexdens, brood rearing, death, foraging, fungi, gardens, leaf-cutting ants, pathogens, pupae
Material brought to midden piles of leaf-cutting ants is considered to be hazardous. It is therefore expected that midden workers should not re-enter the colony, to reduce pathogen transmission. Here, we examined whether the midden workers of Atta sexdens rubropilosa remain confined to the waste compartment and, if not, whether they could perform many different behaviors in the absence of specialized nestmates. Eleven subcolonies received either midden workers or non-midden workers in addition to pupae and 50 mL of fungus garden. Survival, fungal and brood care, foraging and waste manipulation were observed daily until subcolonies death. Subcolonies maintained by midden workers died earlier: average survival times were 13.92 and 22.66 days for midden and non-midden workers, respectively. Midden workers cared for the brood and foraged as non-midden workers did but they were not as efficient in caring for the garden. Activities related to waste manipulation were more frequently performed by midden workers. These results show that midden workers are not a behaviorally rigid caste and retain many labor capabilities being able to leave the waste compartment and perform internal activities in the absence of specialized internal workers.