The ant equivalent of "Lord of the Flies" appears to be taking place deep in an abandoned Soviet nuclear bunker, a group of research biologists at the Museum and Institute of Zoology in Warsaw, Poland, have discovered. Around 100,000 of the trapped insects appear to be building their own society there despite living in complete darkness, without an obvious food source and without a queen to guide them, reports New Scientist.
The unconventional colony is made up entirely of workers which seem to have fallen through a ventilation pipe outlet. Despite their dire circumstances, the ants have managed to build an impressive nest in the bunker that measures three meters by one meter.
Since it doesn't appear as though the ants have any access to food or any way of reproducing, the colony is supplied with new denizens through immigration alone — new recruits that keep falling into the chamber from above. Once fallen, they diligently go to work building what those that came before them had started, until they starve.
A graveyard consisting of over two million ant carcasses litters the floor of the bunker in a layer that's about two centimeters thick. That these ants continue to build a functioning society despite being cut off from their original colony is something that's not been witnessed before.
How do so many ants keep falling into the bunker, enough to sustain the trapped colony? Researchers found a 60-centimeter-high wood ant nest sitting on the forest floor directly above the ventilation pipe outlet, which continues to thrive despite constantly losing members to the bunker colony.
“This is kind of fascinating that such a huge non-productive nest could exist on its own, built solely from the ants that got trapped in the bunker,” said Terry McGlynn, an entomologist at the California State University Dominguez Hills, who was not involved in the study.
The original study was published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research.