Leaf Cutter Ants Know When it is Time to Retire

Leaf Cutter Ants are aptly named because…well, they cut leaves.  Okay, this does indeed get interesting.  First off, Leaf Cutter Ants live and die by the strength of their teeth.  Much like an aging boxer who steps out of the ring to make way for a younger champion, Leaf Cutter Ants will pass the torch off, or in this case–leaf, to their younger counterparts.  Once an aging leaf cutter ant has stubbornly accepted his decreasing leaf cutting abilities he or she will retire.  At this advanced point in the Leaf Cutter Ant’s life, their main concern is not their leaf-cutting prowess, but whether or not their kin is willing to flip the bill for a decent retirement home.

Actually, given the hustle-bustle life of a Leaf Cutter Ant, the aging ants don’t sit around on the porch, rather they simply carry the leaves around for the ant community and leave the cutting abilities to the young, like your grandpa who finally accepted the fact that he can no longer competently command his Ford F-150.

So if scientists discovered that old fogey Leaf Cutting Ant’s are capable of accepting that their worn-out teeth are no longer capable of cutting leaves, and instead must make themselves useful by simply carrying the leaves, how is this observation scientifically relevant?  Well, much like the old man greeter you see at Wal-Mart, Leaf Cutting Ants have the intelligence to prolong their life and usefulness to the community by accepting a new, easier and all around more pedestrian task.  Apparently ants are just as insistent on working until their old age as many humans.

Do you know of any other animals or insects that adapt as they get older by changing their job?

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