Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 255–270 | Cite as

What can ants tell us about collective behavior during a natural catastrophe?

  • Deby Lee Cassill
  • Alexander Casella
  • Jaeson Clayborn
  • Matthew Perry
  • Michael Lagarde


The fire ant, Solenipsis invicta, has successfully invaded and colonized ecosystems worldwide. Like humans, fire ants build permanent domiciles to house family members, establish well-defined territories for foraging and fight to the death when invading neighbors breach the borders. One of the more striking behaviors of fire ants is their ability to form a living raft when springtime rains flood their domiciles. What are the survival benefits, if any, to collective behavior during a flood? To address this question, we quantified the survival of individuals as solitary swimmers compared to cooperative rafters. We found that large workers and matriarchs survived equally well as solitary swimmers or rafters. In contrast, small workers drowned whether they were solitary swimmers or rafters. However, when rafting with large workers or matriarchs, the mortality of small workers declined three-fold. We propose a behavior phenotype classification scheme to catalog the diverse behaviors observed in this series of experiments. Although the ultimate goal of rafting behavior by fire ant workers is to protect their matriarch, the proximate goal for the vast majority of fire ants is to save themselves first and to save others if the opportunity arises.


Self-organization Division of labor Solenopsis invicta 

JEL Classification

A13 B49 B59 C72 C91 D63 D64 J16 Z13 



We thank M. Riedinger-Whitmore and two JBIO reviewers, T. Czaczkes and an anonymous individual, for manuscript reviews. We thank I. Miller-Evans for help with the raft experiments and the USF College of Marine Science for the use of liquid nitrogen. Last, we thank Ulrich Witt, Editor of JBIO, for guiding the manuscript through the review process. This study was supported in part by the USF Honor’s Program for Undergraduates.


  1. Allen, S., & Cassill, D. L. (2010). Skew selection theory applied: The wealth and welfare of nations. Journal of Sociolology and Social Welfare, 37, 115–134.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, C., Theraulaz, G., & Deneubourg, J. L. (2002). Self-assemblages in insect societies. Insectes Sociaux, 49, 99–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Axelrod, R. (1981). The evolution of cooperation. New York: BasicBooks.Google Scholar
  4. Banks, W. A., Lofgren, C. S., Jouvenaz, D. P., Stringer, E. C., Bishop, P. M., Williams, D. F., et al. (1981). Techniques for rearing, collecting and handling imported fire ants (Vol. 21, pp. 1–9). New Orleans, USA: USDA and SEA Agricultural Technology and Southern Services.Google Scholar
  5. Bonabeau, E., Theraulaz, G., Deneubourg, J. L., Aron, S., & Camazine, S. (1997). Self organization in social insects. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 12, 188–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (1992). Punishment allows the evolution of cooperation (or anything else) in sizable groups. Ethology and Sociobiology, 13(3), 171–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, J. J., & Traniello, J. F. A. (1998). Regulation of brood-care behavior in the dimorphic castes of the ant pheidole morrisi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): Effects of caste ratio, colony size, and colony needs. Journal of Insect Behavior, 11, 209–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Calabi, R., & Traniello, J. F. A. (1989). Social organization in the ant Pheidole dentata: Physical and temporal castes lack ecological correlates. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 24, 69–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cassill, D. L., & Tschinkel, W. R. (1999a). Task selection by workers of the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 45, 301–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cassill, D. L., & Tschinkel, W. R. (1999b). Information flow during social feeding in ant societies. In C. T. Detrain & J. L. Pasteels (Eds.), Information processing in social insects (pp. 69–81). Basel, Switzerland: Birkauser.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cassill, D. L. (2002). Yoyo-bang: A risk aversion investment strategy by a perennial insect society. Oecologia, 132, 150–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cassill, D. L. (2003). Rules of supply and demand regulate recruitment to food in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 54, 441–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cassill, D. L., & Watkins, A. (2004). Mogul games: In defense of inequality as an evolutionary strategy to cope with multiple agents of selection. In R. Koppl (Ed.), Advances in Austrian economics (Vol. 7, pp. 35–59). Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic.Google Scholar
  14. Cassill, D. L. (2006). Why skew selection, a model of parental exploitation, should replace kin selection. Journal of Bioeconomics, 8, 101–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cassill, D. L., Greco, A., Silwaland, R., & Wang, X. (2007). Opposable spines facilitate fine and gross object manipulation in fire ants. Naturwissenschaften, 94, 326–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cassill, D. L., Vo, K., & Becker, B. (2008). Young fire ants feign death and survive aggressive neighbors. Naturwissenschaften, 95, 617–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cassill, D. L., Brown, S., & Swick, D. (2009). Polyphasic wake/sleep episodes in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Journal of Insect Behavior, 22, 313–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cassill, D. L., & Singh, D. (2009). Ambidextrous mandibles in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 102, 713–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cassill, D. L., & Watkins, A. (2010). The emergence of cooperative hierarchies through natural selection processes. Journal of Bioeconomics, 12, 29–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cassill, D. L., Hardisty, B. E., & Watkins, A. (2011). Skew selection solves the enigma of altruism in the Shedao pit-viper, Gloydius shedaoensis. Journal of Bioeconomics, 13, 17–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Czaczkes, T. J., Nouvellet, P., & Ratnieks, F. L. W. (2011). Cooperative food transport in the neotropical ant, Pheidole oxyops. Insectes sociaux, 58(2), 153–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Diani, M., & McAdam, D. (2003). Social movements and networks: Relational approaches to collective action: Relational approaches to collective action. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Franks, N. R., & Tofts, N. R. (1994). Foraging for work: How tasks allocate workers. Animal Behaviour, 48, 470–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Garrison, W. R. (1992). The social psychology of collective action. In A. D. Morris & C. M. Mulle (Eds.), Frontiers of social movement theory. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Gordon, D. M. (1996). The organization of work in social insect colonies. Nature, 380, 121–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grüter, C., Schürch, R., Czaczkes, T. J., Taylor, K., Durance, T., Jones, S. M., et al. (2012). Negative feedback enables fast and flexible collective decision-making in ants. PLoS ONE, 7(9), e44501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hardisty, B. E., & Cassill, D. L. (2010). Extending eusociality to include vertebrate family units. Biology and Philosophy, 25, 437–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hill, R. P., & Cassill, D. L. (2004). The naturological view of the corporation and its social responsibility: An extension of the Frederick model of corporate-community relations. Business and Society Review, 109, 281–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hirshleifer, J. (1999). There are many evolutionary pathways to cooperation. Journal of Bioeconomics, 1, 73–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hirshleifer, J. (2000). The dark side of the force: Economic foundations of conflict theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Hölldobler, B., & Wilson, E. O. (1990). The ants. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Karsenti, E. (2008). Self-organization in cell biology: A brief history. Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology, 9, 255–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kaspari, M., & Byrne, M. M. (1995). Caste allocation in litter Pheidole: Lessons from plant defense theory. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 37, 255–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kelly, C., & Breinlinger, S. (1996). The social psychology of collective action: Identity, injustice and gender. Abington, OX: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  35. Kelso, J. S. (1997). Dynamic patterns: The self-organization of brain and behavior. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  36. Mirenda, J. T., & Vinson, S. B. (1981). Division of labour and specification of castes in the red imported fire ant Solenopsis invicta Buren. Animal Behaviour, 29, 410–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mlot, N. J., Tovey, C. A., & Hu, D. L. (2011). Fire ants self-assemble into waterproof rafts to survive floods. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Science, 108, 7669–7673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Morrill, W. W. (1974). Dispersal of red imported fire ants by water. Florida Entomology, 57, 39–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Myers, R. B. (2013). Game theory: Analysis of conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Olson, M., & Olson, M. (2009). The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Oster, G. F., & Wilson, E. O. (1978). Caste and ecology in the social insects. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Ostrom, E. (2000). Collective action and the evolution of social norms. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14, 137–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pasteels, J. M., & Deneubourg, J. L. (1987). from individual to collective behavior in social insects. Basel, Switzerland: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  44. Robinson, G. E. (1992). Regulation of division of labor in insect societies. Annual Review of Entomology, 37, 637–665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Runge, C. F. (1986). Common property and collective action in economic development. World Development, 14, 623–635.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sall, J., Lehman, A., & Creighton, L. (2001). JMP start statistics. Pacific Grove, CA, USA: Duxbury.Google Scholar
  47. Sandler, T., & Hartley, K. (2001). Economics of alliances: The lessons for collective action. Journal of Economic Literature, 39(3), 869–896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stroebe, W., & Frey, B. S. (1982). Self-interest and collective action: The economics and psychology of public goods. British Journal of Social Psychology, 21, 121–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Taber, S. W. (2000). Fire ants. College Station, TX, USA: Texas A&M University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Tarrow, S., & Tollefson, J. (1994). Power in movement: Social movements, collective action and politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Tinbergen, N. (1953). Social behaviour in animals: With special reference to vertebrates. Oxford: Wiley.Google Scholar
  52. Tschinkel, W. R. (2006). The fire ants. Cambridge, MA, USA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Tuomela, R. (1995). The importance of us: A philosophical study of basic social notions. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. van Zomeren, M., Postmes, T., & Spears, R. (2008). Toward an integrative social identity model of collective action: A quantitative research synthesis of three socio-psychological perspectives. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 504–535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wilson, E. O. (1978). Division of labour in fire ants based on physical castes. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 51, 615–636.Google Scholar
  56. Wright, S. C. (2003). Strategic collective action: Social psychology and social change. In R. Brown & S. L. Gaertner (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology: Intergroup processes. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deby Lee Cassill
    • 1
  • Alexander Casella
    • 2
  • Jaeson Clayborn
    • 3
  • Matthew Perry
    • 1
  • Michael Lagarde
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of South Florida (USF)St. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.Undergraduate Honor’s ProgramUniversity of South Florida (USF)TampaUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

Personalised recommendations