A Bug’s Life

Breaking News: Worker Ants Really Lazy

A new study out of the University of Arizona finds that ants specialize in inactivity.


Good news for slackers! Turns out nature’s archetypal busybodies, worker ants, are lazy too.

Researchers have actually been aware of ants’ slacker habits for a while, but they didn’t know whether the sluggish members of the Temnothorax rugatulus species of western North America were inactive or rather just taking a break.

“It’s just the sort of a thing that anyone who’s ever worked on social insects has noticed: ‘Oh look, half of them are standing around doing nothing’,” says Daniel Charbonneau, co-author and researcher from the University of Arizona, to the New Scientist.

The new research published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociology finds that a “large proportion of a colony’s workers appear to spend their time completely inactive” and that this inactivity has a function beyond mere rest.

Charbonneau finds “perhaps the most surprising result of this study is that inactivity is highly repeatable and explains a large portion of inter-worker variation” meaning that inactivity is a behavioral state like any other, “on par with specialized tasks such as foraging, building, and brood care.”

Nearly half of all worker ants are “effectively ‘specializing’ on inactivity,” according to the new study.

But these ants might not just be slacking for funsies. Charbonneau posits to the New Scientist “these lazy ants could be older workers, who have slower metabolic rates because of their age, whose task is to store food.”

“The apparently ‘lazy’ ants could also be acting as a reserve fighting force, since raiding, including raiding for slaves, is quite common amongst such ants,” says Tomer Czaczkes, from the University of Regensburg in Germany to the New Scientist.

Charbonneau calls for more research into this specialization. In the meantime, please feel free to tell your boss that your slacking is actually an attempt to mimic the behavioral standards of the worker ant.