Individual ant workers show self-control

Often, the first option is not the best. Self-control can allow humans and animals to improve resource intake under such conditions. Self-control in animals is often investigated using intertemporal choice tasks—choosing a smaller reward immediately or a larger reward after a delay. However, intertemporal choice tasks may underestimate self-control, as test subjects may not fully understand the task. Vertebrates show much greater apparent self-control in more natural foraging contexts and spatial discounting tasks than in intertemporal choice tasks. However, little is still known about self-control in invertebrates. Here, we investigate self-control in the black garden ant Lasius niger. We confront individual workers with a spatial discounting task, offering a high-quality reward far from the nest and a poor-quality reward closer to the nest. Most ants (69%) successfully ignored the closer, poorer reward in favour of the further, better one. However, when both the far and the close rewards were of the same quality, most ants (83%) chose the closer feeder, indicating that the ants were indeed exercising self-control, as opposed to a fixation on an already known food source.


Individual ant workers show self-control
Stephanie Wendt, Tomer J. Czaczkes

Biology Letters

October 2017
Volume 13, issue 10