The egg-laying queen ant at the National Zoo was accidentally decapitated by worker ants, but her loyal subjects are still tending to her as if she were alive.
The worker ants--all daughters of the queen--lopped off the queen’s head apparently by mistake while trying to squeeze her through a small hole in their nest, said Ed Smith, the man who cares for the leaf-cutting tropical insects housed in the zoo’s glass-fronted display case.
The mishap occurred a few days ago, but the worker ants still are administering to the queen, whose headless body hangs suspended from the ceiling of the royal chamber.
But in a widening royal mystery, the queen’s head is missing.
“I don’t know where it is, but I’m sure the ants are taking good care of it,” Smith said today.
The future of the ant colony is now in question. Without the queen, the working ants will lose a sense of purpose.
Smith said ants survive through taste and smell, which explains why they are still tending to the queen.
“It seems that her odor remains,” he said. “When you chop the head off an insect, it can still breathe through the abdomen. This ant is missing only her head. The bulk of the body goes on functioning for a while. But she is going to rot away in the next few days.”