TORONTO – An ant colony in Poland has scientists scratching their heads.
A colony of ants built their nest over the vertical ventilation pipe of an old nuclear weapon bunker in Poland. According to a new study, every year a large number of wood ants fall down the pipe to never return back to their colony.
This unique population is described in the open access Journal of Hymenoptera Research by the team of Polish scientist Wojciech Czechowski, Polish Academy of Science.
“Judging from the huge deposits of wood-ant corpses in the bunker, the ‘colony’ has survived for years,” the researchers write. Yet, with conditions so severe, reproduction in the bunker is deemed to be highly unlikely. Rather, the colony appears to receive constant input of new worker ants that fall down the ventilation pipe. In fact, these newcomers are outpacing bunker worker deaths, resulting in a growing colony.
The authors claim the ants have not only surived in the extreme conditions, but are thriving.
Curiously, although trapped in extremely severe conditions underground, the ants have already upped their numbers to these of big, mature natural colonies, while also carrying on with their basic activities of nest maintenance, constructing and moulding
Their unusual lodgings don’t seem to bother the worker ants, who have been going about their normal lives, even keeping up with nest repairs. “In total darkness, they have constructed an earthen mound, which they have maintained all-year-round by moulding it and keeping the nest entrances open,” the researchers write..
“To conclude, the wood ant ‘colony’ described here — although superficially looking like a functioning colony with workers teeming on the surface of the mound — is rather an example of survival of a large amount of workers trapped within a hostile environment in total darkness, with constantly low temperatures and no ample supply of food,” say the authors.