Effects of worker size on the dynamics of fire ANT tunnel construction

Nick Gravish*, Mateo Garcia, Nicole Mazouchova, Laura Levy, Paul B. Umbanhowar, Michael A.D. Goodisman, Daniel I. Goldman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Social insects work together to complete tasks. However, different individuals within a colony may vary in task proficiency. We investigated if fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) worker body size influenced the ability to construct tunnels-a key component of subterranean nests. We monitored excavation by worker groups in a substrate of small wetted glass particles in quasi-two-dimensional arenas. Morphological and network features of the tunnel system were measured. Total tunnel area did not differ significantly between groups of large and small workers, although the tunnel area of control sized workers was significantly larger than that of large workers. Moreover, large workers created wider but shorter tunnels, with slower growth rate of tunnel number. However, edge-vertex scaling and degree distribution of the tunnel network were similar across all treatments. In all cases, the amount of excavated material was correlated with the number of active workers. Our study reveals that morphological features of excavated tunnels show modest variation when constructed by workers of varying sizes, but topological features associated with the tunnel network are conserved. These results suggest that important behavioural aspects of tunnel construction-and thus nest building-are similar among morphologically distinct members of fire ant societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3312-3322
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number77
StatePublished - Dec 7 2012


  • Adaptive demography
  • Division of labour
  • Granular media
  • Nest construction
  • Network
  • Social insects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering

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