Polyergus moves forward, and a modest proposal for kidnapper ants

Workers of Polyergus mexicanus return from a successful raid with kidnapped Formica subsericea brood. Urbana, Illinois.

This morning saw the publication of James Trager’s much-awaited taxonomic revision of the parasitic ant genus Polyergus. These insects are commonly known as “slave-raiding ants”, a controversial moniker I’ll discuss in a bit. But first, the new paper.

James, who often comments on this blog, is known for thorough, methodical taxonomic papers on particularly difficult genera of ants. In the 1980s, for example, he revised the North American Nylanderia and Paratrechina. As James is no longer employed as a researcher, his publications are infrequent. But his patience and attention to detail lend James’ works particular longevity. This new revision fits the mold, so I expect it will be the standard reference for identifying Polyergus to species for the next decade and beyond.

(An aside: A taxonomic revision is what it sounds like. The existing taxonomy is reevaluated based on new data, new species are described if needed, old mistakes are corrected, and inadequate taxa are sunk into more appropriate ones. The result is a more stable arrangement of species.)

The old scheme for Polyergus crammed an uncomfortable level of variation into just a handful of described species. Yet consistent morphological differences among Polyergus that attack different species of host Formica, particularly in the F. pallidefulva group, suggested a much finer division. The new scheme is more sensible in light of host/parasite biology, elevating a number of subspecific taxa to full species while describing five as entirely new. The paper also contains fascinating observations on Polyergus natural history.

And what a spectacular natural history these ants have!

Colonies of Polyergus cannot function without a large contingent of workers from another ant genus, Formica, that care for the brood, maintain the nest, and forage for food. In fact, Polyergus workers themselves do little other than kidnap immature brood from nearby Formica nests. The raids are usually in late afternoon, in the summer, and can be spectacular to watch.

At the entrance of a Polyergus mexicanus colony, a Formica subsericea worker carries excavated soil from the nest. The parasitic Polyergus workers do not perform those sorts of tasks. (Urbana, Illinois)

The dependence of Polyergus on stolen labor has lent a bondage metaphor to the common name: slave-raiding ants. To the limited extent that a human analogy can apply to an insect, the comparison is reasonably apt.

Recently the slave-raiding name has become controversial. For good reason. Myrmecologist Joan Herbers (2006, 2007) observes that references to slavery can make public communication about these ants unduly difficult:

In the United States, we are technologically dependent yet scientifically illiterate, and using jargon that discourages even one individual from learning more about science is simply irresponsible. I find it hard to imagine a young black student being attracted to a discipline that calls parasitized insects “slaves” and “negro ants.”

Herbers proposed substituting “pirate ant” for “slave-raiding ant”, yet I’ve never liked that solution. A couple years ago I explained:

I don’t think Herbers’s solution is workable, though. Piracy is a terrible parallel to what ants like Protomognathus and Polyergus do. Pirates take things. Slave-raiding ants aren’t primarily pillaging the food stores of other colonies. They don’t lay in wait along trails to steal forage. No. The brood parasites take actual, living ants whose labor they use for their own benefit. That is slavery. If I call these ants pirates, I am not communicating accurately about their biology. Piracy, for me, is out.

While I still don’t like the piracy metaphor, I’ve come around to Herber’s perspective that the slave-raiding comparison, while apt, is not ideal for those of us trying to introduce myrmecology to its broadest possible audience.

So. Down with ant slavery! Instead, I humbly propose that Polyergus and other cleptergic species be called kidnapper ants.

As a vivid vernacular, kidnapping is as accurate as slavery. Polyergus raids target immature forms of its hosts, after all. Yet kidnapping, though terrible as a human atrocity, is not so culturally encumbered as slavery.

I tried out the phrase on a local church group recently. Given how quickly attendees sat forward in their seats on mention of the mysterious Kidnapper Ants, I’ll stick with the newer metaphor.

Anyway. Regardless of what you think of the common names, check out James’ revision. It’s good.

Herbers, JM (2006) The loaded language of science. Chronicle of Higher Education. 52: B5
Herbers, JM (2007) Watch Your Language! Racially Loaded Metaphors in Scientific Research. BioScience 57. doi 10.1641/B570203
Trager, JC (2007) Collected thoughts on “pirate” ants and “leistic” behavior. Notes from Underground, online.
Trager, JC (2013) Global revision of the dulotic ant genus Polyergus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae, Formicinae, Formicini). Zootaxa 3722 (4): 501–548.

58 thoughts on “Polyergus moves forward, and a modest proposal for kidnapper ants”

    1. Impressment ants does indeed sound impressive!

      Press gang is probably more commonly understood, and a bit closer to what they do.

      I actually kind of like kidnapper ants though, that has a good flavor to it and is pretty close AND somewhat acceptable.

      I suppose there’s possibly some angle that incorporates getting all the baby ants hooked so they cant’ escape, like Amway ants or something. 🙂

  1. Speaking of these ants, have you ever seen the movie “Angels and Insects”? This was a film based on the novella “Morpho Eugenia” by AS Byatt. It is one of my favourite movies featuring insects, and has a character very much like AR Wallace as the main character.

    1. I haven’t seen “Angels and Insects” for years, but I remember quite liking it. An unusual film, and one of the only I’ve seen that included correctly-pronounced latin names for ants.

  2. Alex
    Links to sources 1 and 3 don’t seem to work. Looks like only early editions of Notes from Underground are still online at that site?

  3. While I agree that kidnapper ants is closer than pirate ants, I don’t think it describes these ants’ lifestyle properly, either. Let me argue along the lines of your argumentation against pirate ants:
    Slave-making ants aren’t taking the children of other ant colonies to blackmail their relatives. They don’t wait for ant larvae that pass by to lure them into their colonies. The brood parasites take immature ants whose labor they subsequently use for their own benefit. Kidnappers usually don’t force their victims to work for them.
    I’m not in a position to judge whether using the term slave-making ants might be offensive for someone who belongs to a group that suffered from slavery. However, I think that someone in this position might be especially curious to learn more about these ants. I would like to see thorough data on that.

  4. Kidnapper ants is a useful suggestion, but kidnapping implies short term hostage-taking, possibly for ransom, rather than long-term integration into colonies.

    I also do not Joan’s suggestion for “pirate ants” – basically for the same reasons that she objects to slave-making ants – because piracy is a massive and current problem in several parts of the world, particularly around the horn of Africa – the “Pirates of the Caribbean” image of piracy that she and many others have is so far removed from brutal reality that appending this name to them would be worse than association with slavery in my opinion. But I do support her arguments for not using “slave-making ants”, even if it is a more accurate description.

    I would actually lim to have the term “Amazon ant” applied to this lifestyle in general (not just to Polyergus), but I know this isn’t practical, as it would imply association with the neotropics in most people’s minds, rather than with the mythical tribe of female warriors who would abduct and enslave men to work for them…

    I like the suggestion of “pressgang ants” 🙂

  5. I’m sorry, but removing words from the English language because there’s bad stuff associated with them sounds rather 1984 to me… The Romans and Egyptians kept slaves, these ants keep slaves, Americans kept slaves in the past – changing the name doesn’t change the reality, though do it long enough and often enough and people might begin to forget how bad it was and why…

      1. 1984 attempts to redefine words to remove their original meaning from the minds – by removing concepts from society, they attempt to remove the idea behind those concepts, it’s basically the whole premise of the book.

        1. I seriously doubt the concept of slavery is going to die out because of a name change. In fact, people have enough emotional connotations about slavery (and rightly so!!) that I doubt the concept will fade from the cultural consciousness any time soon. If you doubt me, watch the movie 12 Years a Slave. Also if the entire concept of slavery hinges on the naming of an ant, perhaps the problem lies not with ant naming but with our culture instead?

          Finally, 1984 references are a bit much in the context of a blog post about insect taxonomy, don’t you think?

        2. Yes, I see that, but I think your comment misses the mark. I’d be Orwellian if I was attempting to rename human slavery itself with some sort of newspeak. But I’m not. I’m just trying to substitute one inexact metaphor for another for an instance of insect behavior.

          1. I do understand, though I find it extremely disheartening that this kind of thing becomes necessary – and I would argue that there “slavery” is a far far less inexact metaphor for these ants’ behaviour than any of the other terms I’ve seen suggested – they’re stealing young ants from other colonies and making them work without any sort of recompensation, I would say that this is almost a textbook definition of the word “slavery” (distinct from the term “human slavery”). Any other words I can come up with either don’t have the same meaning (neither piracy nor kidnapping imply that the “victims” become servants, neither serfdom nor vassalage imply the “stealing” bit – slavery incorporates both aspects).

  6. Thanks for this nice review, Alex. I hope the paper lives up to your prediction of longevity. I’ll admit, while comfortable with most of the taxonomy, I may still have too much variation stuffed into P. mexicanus, especially in California and Nevada.

    The paper may be read online, if any of your readers or their university/museum subscribe to the journal. Otherwise, contact my gmail address (jamesDOTtrager) and I’ll send one.

    I went through a lot of thought about the “slave” terminology while preparing the revision. In the best of all possible worlds, I might have suggested a change to kidnappers, cleptergy, etc. Or perhaps, work(er)-robbers would be the most accurate and neutral term(s) of all. Nonetheless, for reasons of stability and ease of literature searches, I chose to stay with dulosis and the slave-terminology. Unlike the situation with, say, the food biz’s change from “Jew fish” to “Goliath grouper”, we don’t have a lot of money to do re-branding in myrmecology. Indeed, I funded this work out of pocket, which is why you all have to request a pdf from me (or a labmate), rather than get it open-access.

    1. Another point – how is that “kidnapper” ants is somehow more politically correct than “slave-maker?” As a parent, the very notion of kidnapping is abhorrent. This is no better than the images that slave-making conjures. I know others don’t like “sciencey” terms and always seek a clever common term to convey the meaning, but I would strongly suggest that we stick with dulosis as the descriptor, and use the “slave-making” term only as needed.

      1. I’ve thought about the distinction between slavery and kidnapping, and they really are fundamentally different. Slavery in our country was enshrined in an institution- a formalized, written-into-the-laws system- that affected millions of people for generations. Kidnapping, while abhorrent, is usually carried out on an individual level and does not reflect entrenched cultural values.

        I agree that scientists should not be using any of these vernacular terms in their internal communications, and would prefer we stick to dulosis, or to James’s “cleptergy”, for our papers. I can’t be bothered worrying about scientists who miss papers because they are searching for common names.

        Scientists are in deep shit, politically. Look at how easily the sequester became the new normal, how easily the Canadian government closed whole research programs overnight. Our funding system is poised to collapse for lack of popular and political support, and most scientists seem to have no clue about the situation. Choosing to speak to the public only in our internal jargon amounts to a decision to flush the whole thing away. We need to speak in vivid metaphors and tell exciting stories, we need to engage with the people whose tax dollars pay our salaries. Speaking to them in a foreign language just isn’t going to work.

        1. I’m well aware of this problem but colorful language is not the sole solution. As you said, you need compelling stories. The whole story in the specific case of Polyergus would involve describing them using the term “dulotic” and also describing how that is like slave-raiding or kidnapping. Their life history is what is of interest, not the single name we give to it. The fire ant is among the most compelling and well-known insects not because we chose to call it “the red imported fire ant” as a common name as opposed to say “the unvanquished ant” or some other clever name. It is well-known because of all of the stories and the fact that it is in everyone’s back yard in the southeastern US. In the case of Polyergus and many other critters, we need advocates in and out of science telling whole stories. This is the great value of writers like Rob Dunn, journalists like Ed Yong, and photographers like you who work to “promote” the organisms. I agree that we need more scientists to step up their communication, but I guess what I’m saying is that I’d rather see the focus on the whole stories, rather than just descriptors.

        2. I also think we should stick with the slave-making terminology; we are all ‘grownups’ and able to come to our own conclusions and should be able to separate emotional baggage from reality.

          “Scientists are in deep shit, politically.” Too true, but a certain amount of that potential horror is self inflicted. Whenever scientist participate in political or policy polemics, they hitch their wagon to the whirlwind. The global warming, thermageddon, climate change, climate disruption crowd is particularly guilty and has the additional lovely cachet of being demonstrably dishonest, partisan, and corrupt. So instead of providing a shining example of utility, wonder, and opportunity, mostly the citizen sees waste, fraud, and abuse. Way to go team !!

          In any case, when something can not continue, it won’t. If and when this lovely currency ponzi scheme collapses, ALL of us will suffer.

          Joshua King makes a good point that science PR should often be story telling. Everyone loves a good bedtime story.

  7. So many good points here – I’m throwing up my hands and saying: “Use whatever English words you like, just need to make sure to slip in the genus name Polyergus somewhere.”

  8. Kidnapper ants, thief ants, army ants … I’m thinking this might be the basis for a good dystopian novel, if only that genre wasn’t already overrepresented.

  9. Alfred Buschinger

    All social insect terminology comprises a lot of anthropomorphisms. I prefer to stick with dulosis and slave-making ants that both are well-known to entomologists.
    Ants are not “social” in the human sense. Aristocracy might be uncomfortable with “queens” and “kings” (in termites) which in fact are the reproductive organs in the insect superorganism. Human workers and soldiers fortunately are not sterile castrati but may enjoy a regular family life, and so on… To me it sounds useless to change all such terms. Let’s stay with the terminology that has been developed by generations of researchers!

    1. While I’m sympathetic to your viewpoint, the empirical reality (at least as reported by several North American ant researchers) is that outreach on our continent is hampered with the slavery metaphor, and that keeping with the tradition of the slave terminology may unintentionally reinforce the tradition of excluding African Americans from science. This is not conjecture- this is what has been observed by Herbers and others.

      1. Sorry, Alex, I call BS. Of course, the rest of the story has no significance…the single parent families, the lack of emphasis by the family on education, discrimination, old boy network, poverty, yadda yadda yadda…

        It’s not like the rest of us have never been slaves. ALL people were held as slaves in some periods of history, jews, christians, whites, blacks, etc.. In fact, the USA had it’s first war over arabs enslaving captured sailors and sent the Marines to the shores of Tripoli.

        “Clearly, the ability to score ideological points against American society or Western civilization, or to induce guilt and thereby extract benefits from the white population today, are greatly enhanced by making enslavement appear to be a peculiarly American, or a peculiarly white, crime.” Thomas Sowell, 2005

        more at: http://www.deadcatsandclippings.com/?page_id=321

        1. Sorry. I’m going to believe Herbers’ account of her own experience over your opinion. If you haven’t tried explaining slave-raiding ants to a classroom of descendants of slaves, then you basically have nothing to add that will convince me your opinion on this matter is more valuable than hers.

          Although, I do feel for the life of poverty and oppression you have suffered as a white man in North America. Really. It must be awful.

          1. You seriously need to look in the mirror, you white man of North America. You too have suffered the chains, slings and arrows of being a liberal in academia – oh wait ! Spare me the typical marxist, liberal smarm and self righteousness. Alinsky someone else, I don’t buy it, cuz.

            You miss the point. The rest of the former slaves have moved on while others wallow in their historical self conceptualized victimhood misery. The world owes later generations NOTHING. The concept of slavery (the consequence of the wars waged by Otto the Great and his successors against the Slavs, a great number of whom they took captive and sold into slavery) is race free. If you want to wallow in guilt and the self pity of others, assume the need for political correctness using the concept of slavery, feel free. But don’t include me in your bullcrap. There is no justified racism since there are no true human races, only clines that are relicts of prior incipient race formation. If I have 1% black blood (and I probably do) does that make me black ? Just how much black ancestry does it take to make me black ? You only display your bias, seeing discontinuity where there is none. There is ONE human species, but plenty of tribal bias, which is endemic to the human condition. We were ALL slaves; get over it.

            1. Look. I want people to like ants, and if calling Polyergus by a different common name makes it easier for more people to like ants, I’m happy with that. My argument is grounded in Herbers’ empirical observation that the slavery metaphor doesn’t help sell ants to a significant proportion of the population. I’m not trying to make some sort of political or ideological point. If you disagree with Herbers’ observation, fine. I’m going to believe her over you, because she works with these ants and you don’t. Your expertise, as far as I can tell, is yelling at people in the comments section, and I weigh that what it’s worth.

              As to your string of odd invective involving Marx, Alinsky, Global Warming, and Precious Bodily Fluids, I have no idea what that means. I didn’t bring any of that up.

  10. What about the “Janissary ant”?
    Janissaries were an army corp composed of children kidnapped or enrolled by Ottoman’s army from dominated countries or during raids from the XIV century to 1830. At first used for war, Janissaries spread out in Ottoman’s society to occupy diverse functions, and some even became vizir.
    I don’t think the term hold specific “bad connotation” today, even if of course part of their story is rather violent.

    Besides that, great work James!

    1. At first I thought of this type of “slavery” also, but often the parents of devshirme (the process) children reportedly tried to get their children enrolled to have a very valuable networking connection/ally. Not so good. A much better term is mamluk ant. The Mamluks ruled Egypt and the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan) from 1250 to about 1517, successfully fought and beat the Mongols several times and went on to exist much longer into the 19th century in Egypt after the Ottomans took over. Mamluks were slaves of a strange sort for us since nearly all of them (even leaders and rulers—-where the analogy breaks down, but that’s analogies for you) were slaves and the descendants of slaves. They were from many areas, but many were from the Caucasus and the areas south of Egypt. The really nice thing about this term is that “mamluk” means posessed or owned in Arabic. It is also a largely unknown term to most people.

  11. Lori in Tasmania


    How about captor ants, and captive ants. There. Simple and to the point. (Sorry if someone else wrote this somewhere above.)

  12. I think it’s ridiculous that we have to worry about whether or not we’re being politically correct when naming insects. It’s just silly if you ask me. But since we’re going that way, I like MRILOVETHEANTS’s suggestions the best…”Job Creator Ants”…HA! Very funny! 🙂

  13. As somebody who studies a slavemaking/slave-raiding/dulotic ant, I find the slave-making metaphor the most fitting (much better than piracy or kidnapping, although I do like impressment). However, as a white person, I can definitely see how black people could be offended by this, and maybe even the possibility that it could be offensive to black people is enough reason to avoid using the term.
    But do we know that there are black people who actually find this term offensive? Are there any black people in the comments right now? Even Dr. Herbers doesn’t explicitly state that a black person has told her that “slave-raiding ants” is offensive; she only “finds it hard to imagine” that a black student wouldn’t be offended. And in her 2007 article Herbers cites an article in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in which the anonymous author fails to object to the use of the term “slavemaking.”
    So is “slavemaking” in the context of ant behavior an offensive term to black people? Or are a bunch of white scientists wringing their hands over nothing? I don’t know the answer to these questions but I do know that black people should be involved in the discussion.

  14. Several of you have commented that the slavery metaphor is more exact than the alternatives. But it’s really not that exact. Consider:

    – The host ants are not held against their will. They are not coerced. Rather, they’ve imprinted on the parasite nest and work their as an artifact of ant cognition. Plus, I don’t think anyone is really ready to accept the notion of free will in ants.
    – Parasite colonies are founded in quite the opposite way from most human slave operations, with a founding individual invading a host society and building a parasitic colony in place. That’s not how most human slave systems work.
    – Parasitic colonies do not commoditize their hosts. They do not sell them, or trade them to other colonies, as are human slaves.
    – Parasitic ants, especially in Formica, often eat much of the brood they take. As far as I know, most human slave owners aren’t cannibals.
    – These parasitic ants rely on the labor of other species, rather than captured brood from their own species. We don’t call people slave-owners who use domesticated members of other species as labor, do we?

    I would argue instead that the reason why we think of slavery as a fitting term for dulotic species is because we’ve learned to do so. If we first learn of these ants through the frame of slavery- I certainly did- we will tend to structure our thinking through that analogy as a sort of inertia.

    1. It is true that slavery in ants is not exactly like slavery as we know it in humans, but if you put kidnapping or any other metaphor under that much scrutiny of course you will find problems with it.

      Slavery is still the best word to describe the phenomenon of an individual (human or ant) being taken from its home (either a human dwelling or an ant nest) and forced (by threat of violence or through exploitation of an artifact of ant cognition) to perform tasks (say, farm work or foraging) for a master without compensation (in human currency or by increasing the evolutionary fitness of the enslaved ant).

      That being said, the term slavery should not be used if it is offensive to people whose ancestors were enslaved. But do we know that it is offensive? Is there a considerable group of black people (or Native Americans for that matter because they were enslaved too) who find the term “slavemaking” in the context of myrmecology offensive?

      1. Marc "Teleutotje" Van der Stappen

        Both of you are correct in your views but consider this: Ant slavery was coined long ago to describe a certain way of life that was known for some ant species and although slavery was at that moment common practice for many humans it meant not exactly the same for the ants. I, at this moment, can see that both your arguments have many good points in it BUT it is about ANT slavery. For all the confusion it brought about I was a supporter for DrAnts new name, introduced by him as:

        ” In response to senstitivities and concerns about the flawed analogy of the behavior of these ants to human slavery, I propose using the terminology “cleptergy” and “cleptergic”, and host workers, for what are now called “slave-making behavior”, “slave-maker” ants, and “slave” ants.”

        Later on DrAnt wrote:

        “Cleptergy = the noun “slave-making” (literally, theft of work), cleptergic the adjective.
        I took the suggestion for using this term out of the paper after some rather negative reaction from one of the foremost students of parsitic ants, Prof. Alfred Buschinger.”

        My response:

        “DrAnt, I was one of the supporters of “cleptergy”. Most types of relations between ants have their own name and the stealing of pupae is already called dulosis, so I liked to call the type of “slave-keepers” as “cleptergics” (nicer and no negative “rumors in the background”.). It also had something like the “cleptoparasitic” bees… a special name for a special behavior!”

        I still am in favor of “cleptergy” but won’t reject “ant slavery” on the basis of it sounding like “human slavery”

        It reminds me of a similar thing in Europe. At this moment all of you know that the helpers of Santa Claus are…, how should I say it, have a dark skin. Now, it is so since Santa Claus got his day and all things around it. Now, some people have gone to the European commission to change this “because saying that the helpers of Santa Claus are blacks is an act of racism”. If this is accepted, a lot of common and non-offensive names should change….. This is all madness!

        So, stop comparing two different things and don’t look for something more behind “ant slavery” or, to be prudent, use “cleptergy” and support DrAnt!

      2. I think this Kevin’s points are interesting. Alex, you a couple times refer to the “empirical” observations, but aren’t they actually anecdotal, i.e. not actually that reliable and/or subject to all kinds of serious biases? Also, the idea of trading precision for not (maybe) offending (some) people is a dangerous concept for science to accept.

        These are my opinions on Alex’s points:

        – As indicated by Kevin, ants are in fact “coerced”, if we see this as being made to, completely contrary to evolutionary drives (as close as possible to what ants “want” to do), do labor for something else.

        – The founding doesn’t seem to matter that much, as this is not the aspect of the “operation” that is called “slave-making” – it’s the behavior of capturing of brood (regardless of method) and more importantly the act of making them do labor for the benefit of the captors. Same goes for the cantibalism you reference – that behavior is other than that which gave the species their name. It would be like saying, “but they didn’t get their ant slaves from Africa, so it’s not slavery like we know it in the U.S.!” Some aspects are not relevant because they are not inherent to our concept of slavery.

        – This is perhaps the most compelling point, as commoditization was/is inherent in Western slavery, and therefore is potentially inherent in the minds of many Americans. However, to this white guy at least, my first emotional thoughts about slavery when it’s brought up are whippings, horrible living conditions, etc (i.e. the “forced labor” parts), and not the (also disgusting) commoditization of people against their will – this may not be shared by most people, though.

        – I addressed the cantibalism in the second point

        – If you’re going to go off of the general populace’s feelings and responses, then you have to also accept that virtually everyone thinks of ants as a “species” in the way they view humans as a species. They’re all called ants after all. So it’s “slavery” of one kind of thing under something else that is the same kind of thing, comparable to humans enslaving other human’s.

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  16. Metaphores in animal behaviour are more attractive to people when animals are compared in some way with humans. This is the case of slavery ants. Two kinds of problems may appear:

    1) The misunderstanding of the biological phenomenon. Polyergus workers marching in column have no conscience of the objective of their organized raid. The Formica workers emerged from the captured pupae have no conscience of their new situation in a mixed colony (so, no conscience of the lack of freedom).
    2) The wrong and sometimes damaging use of the metaphor when directly applied to human affairs. This happened, for example, in the XIX century with two books devoted to defend and explain human slavery (in which the authors made use of Pierre Huber’s account of the amazon ants, 1810):

    —Cobb, Thomas R. R. 1858. An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America. Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson & Co.
    —Seabury, Samuel. 1861. American Slavery Distinguished from the Slavery of the English Theorists and justified by the Law of Nature. Masson Brothers: New York.

    It seems recommendable to gradually avoid this kind of metaphor (two centuries old since P. Huber’s discovery) and employ naturalistic terms such as dulotic ants and dulosis, an obligatory social parasitism in which one species make organized raids to capture and rear the pupae of another species.

  17. Enough is enough! Against James Trager’s request, Polyergus and the associated Formica species are getting lost. Can I suggest, or better still, request a guest post from James on their natural history?

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  19. Alfred Buschinger

    Sometimes I am dreaming of a kind of “International Rules of Biological Terminology”, analogous to the Int. Rules of Nomenclature. I know, it is by no means realistic….

    But I dislike synonyms, particularly “junior synonyms”, for well established terms. And both “pirate ants” and “leistic ants” are synonyms of “dulosis” and “ant slavery”, as would be all the other terms that have been suggested here. They all would increase confusion, and make it more difficult to find relevant literature!
    There’s no advantage of replacing the terms “slavery” and “dulosis”. Each serious student of ants cannot avoid searching for and reading literature with these terms.

    After the heated debate on Herbers’s suggestions in 2006/7 I found just two papers where the authors were using “pirate ants”, Joan Herbers being coauthor in one of them:

    BONO, J. M., BLATRIX, R., ANTOLIN, M. F. & HERBERS, J. F. (2007) Pirate ants (Polyergus breviceps) and sympatric hosts (Formica occulta and Formica sp. cf. argentea): host specificity and coevolutionary dynamics
    Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 91 (4), 565–572.

    TSUNEOKA, S. 2007: Host colony usurpation by the queen of the Japanese pirate ant,
    Polyergus samurai (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 91, 565-572. Annual Review of Entomology 46: 573-599

    Apparently no other scientist has ever adopted the new terminology (please, correct me if I am wrong!), neither American, nor myrmecologists from any of the other nations and countries on earth.

    Google search for “pirate ants” revealed a recent paper of 2013:
    „New “Pirate” Ant Discovered in the Philippines”
    Not a slave-making ant, though…

    In my correspondence I found a letter of the late Ross Crozier of 2007 where he said:
    “I suggest however that we retain “dulosis”, to give continuity with past usage. I agree that, especially in North America, we should avoid “ant slavery” because of the sensitivities of non-scientists [and be grateful that such sensitivities have not extended to terms such as fitness!]. If pressed, we should use the definition that dulotic ants capture pupae of OTHER ant species and rear them as workers in their own colony.”
    Perhaps the best of all solutions. Non-Americans may retain the slave-maker terminology in their respective languages.

    After all: There has been a discussion on “ant slavery” here already, without a better result:

    A. Buschinger

  20. Pingback: Slave-Driving Pillage Ants Ought To Be Renamed Targaryens | Spacenicht

  21. Pingback: Slave-Making Pillage Ants Ought To Be Renamed ‘Targaryens’ | Spacenicht

  22. -comment removed for racist content-

    [I tolerate a range a viewpoints, but not white supremacism or other forms of abject bigotry. -alex]

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