This is according to a new study published in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology, which has found that a significant proportion of ant colonies’ so-called “workers” spend most of their time “completely inactive”.
Just three per cent of worker ants were found to work all the time, while more than two-thirds work less than half of the time.
The remaining lucky 25 per cent do absolutely no work at all.
Researchers Daniel Charbonneau and Anna Dornhaus, at the University of Arizona, observed five ant colonies in their lab, meticulously recording their actions six times daily over a period of two weeks:
Social insect colonies are often considered to be highly efficient collective systems, with division of labour at the root of their ecological success. However, in many species, a large proportion of a colony’s workers appear to spend their time completely inactive.
Like any social insects, ants specialise in different tasks, such as building or nursing. While different workers had radically different levels of inactivity, the researchers found that they were individually very consistent, or as the authors of the study noted, “some workers effectively specialise on ‘inactivity’”.
This doesn’t just apply to ants.
Previous studies on the matter have found that other insects like termites, wasps and bees are also lazier than we think - and these studies have been replicated in the wild.
So if you’re ever told to get moving like a worker ant - from now on assume this is an instruction to immediately go and take a nap.