Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Camponotus gigas and the "art of war"

I have always wondered about the giant forest ant that wanders alone in Bukit Timah and the Central Catchment Nature Reserves. For one, it is a huge bugger (one of the largest ant species in the world) and often seen alone, so much so that some have even told me that it is solitary. Far from that, C. gigas, which is a dominant ant species in South East Asia, has polydomous colonies with a territory of up to 0.8 ha.

I came across this paper searching for more info on the ant. It reads like some war strategy book. These ants not only engage in battles with sympatric species but also have a de-escalation strategy to minimise loss of soldiers. After the de-escalation combats which last for a month, a "no-ant zone" is established between territories.

Lanchester's (1916) "Aircraft in warfare" strategies are also used to explain the outcomes of these ant combats. An example is the linear law which predicts that "a few good fighters are better than many poor ones (if the battle involves a series of one-to-one conflicts with excess individuals waiting for a free opponent."

For more Camponotus info .

Pfeiffer M, Linsenmair KE. Territoriality in the Malaysian giant ant Camponotus gigas (Hymenoptera/Formicidae). Journal of Ethology (2001) 19:75-85

Lanchester FW (1916) Aircraft in warfare: the dawn of the fourth arm. Constable, London.

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