A number of giant and regal ants have become the centre of a series of experiments at Berne university in Switzerland.
A number of giant and regal ants have become the centre of a series of experiments at Berne university in Switzerland. The ants, of the Macrotermes Subhyalinus species, are from Masailand in Kenya and were flown to Switzerland at the weekend (20-21 July).
The Swiss scientists are interested in the queen ants, which have a remarkable -- and until now, unstudied -- process for the production of protein. In Berne, the queens are dissected and the protein-producing organs removed and studied using radio-active tracers.
The ants of this species are found in many parts of Africa, and usually several million live in each coloney. Only a small proportion of the rest is above the ground.
The colonies have a highly-developed and rigid social structure. There is one queen (she is the biggest ant in the colony), one king (the only fertile male), two different sizes of soldiers and finally the workers, who provide food for the others.
The queen is simply an egg-laying machine, producing one egg every second of her 20-year life.
The operation in Masailand was supervised by a Swiss scientist, Reinhard Leuthold, assisted by a German, Manfred Kaib, and a Kenyan Kizito Wanyoni.