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01/11/2000

Slavery - Human & Otherwise

I recently saw the end of a segment on the nightly news that dealt
with modern day slavery in the Sudan and was surprised to hear
that slavery was still in existence anywhere to a substantial
degree. The part of the news piece that I saw showed some
grade school students in the Denver area who heard about this
problem from their teacher. The teacher, who had told her
students earlier that slavery was a thing of the past, wanted to
correct herself when she learned of the Sudan situation. The
students'' response was, "What are we going to do about it?"
Amazingly, they did do something about it and began raising
enough money to actually buy the freedom of a number of slaves.
I searched the Web and found on pbs.org a story from May of last
year about these fourth grade students and it seems that over a
thousand slaves had their freedom purchased by the money they
raised! The money, according to the PBS story, was funneled
through an organization called Christian Solidarity International,
which buys the freedom in a clandestine manner from the northern
Sudanese slave traders at $50 a head! I''ll leave it to Brian
Trumbore to comment further on this whole subject. Some have
maintained that this approach only encourages slave trading,
certainly an arguable point.

My mother was born in Princess Anne, Maryland, where my
grandmother owned a rooming house just off the main street. In
the course of my Web browsing, I found an article from a
Maryland newspaper about a racial discrimination suit of a few
years ago in which the plaintiff worked in Princess Anne. What
intrigued me was mention in the article that, back in the days of
slavery, slaves were bought and sold just a couple blocks from the
office of the African-American plaintiff in the lawsuit. Not only
that, but the office was just a short distance from the tree upon
which a man was hanged in the last lynching in Princess Anne.

I believe that I had personal experience with that lynching. One
day in the 1930s, our family drove down from Pennsylvania to
visit my grandmother. We arrived in Princess Anne in the
afternoon to find along the main street a substantial number of
law officers of some sort, possibly state troopers, with guns.
They were there to make sure an event scheduled for that night
went smoothly, with no trouble. The scheduled event was the
lynching of a black man, I believe accused of raping a white girl.
My mother made sure I was in bed early that night, shielding me
from witnessing such a traumatic event. It turned out that the
lynch mob wanted to hang the fellow on my grandmother''s tree
but she, a wisp of a lady less than 5 feet tall, stood her ground and
refused to allow it. So, the mob found another tree, apparently
the tree mentioned in the recent article. For those African-
Americans impatient with the progress made in the field of civil
rights, it should be a comfort to know that at least such blatant
miscarriages of justice are no longer condoned.

Slavery is not unique to Homo sapiens. I was fascinated by an
article titled "Slave-Making Queens" in the November 1999 issue
of Scientific American. It turns out that over 200 species of ants
are slave owners in one form or another. The author of the article
is Dr. Howard Topoff, a professor in the psychology department
at Hunter College of C.U.N.Y. Obviously not your typical
psychologist, he has spent the last 15 years studying the ant
Polygerus breviceps. Let''s just call the ant Poly for short.
Judging from the pictures in the article, Poly is a red ant. Topoff
has studied extensively the evolution of social behavior in insects,
perhaps realizing that trying to figure out human social behavior
is really a lost cause!

The other ant species in the cast of characters is the Formica ant,
ironically, a black ant. The interaction of these two types of ants
is truly bizarre, rivaling anything human despots have contrived,
with battles, palace intrigue, murder and slavery. The battles
involve Poly ant raids on the nests of the Formicans. The
objective of these raids is the abduction by the Polys of Formican
pupae from the nest. The Polys carry the pupae back to their own
nests, where the pupae mature into full-blown Formican workers.
Not knowing any better, the young Formicans, finding themselves
in the Polys'' nest, just assume that they too are Polys. Actually,
the real Polys aren''t cut out for tending to household chores such
as tidying up the nest, cooking (well, the equivalent - foraging for
food), feeding the young or tending the queen. The Formicans,
on the other hand, are hard workers and end up doing all these
chores for the nest as a whole. From the article, it seems as
though the Polys aren''t much good for anything but raiding
Formican nests. In fact, the Polys would perish without their
Formican slaves since they''ve completely lost the ability to fend
for themselves.

The palace intrigue involves the Poly and Formican queens.
During the Poly raids, the heat of battle seems to stir up the
passions and young Poly queens mate right there on the
battlefield! Apparently, they feel pretty euphoric after mating and
decide to head off to set up a new colony of their own.

When they''re far enough away from their home base, they find
another Formican nest and fight their way down into it. Once in a
while, this rambunctious behavior results in the Poly interloper
being torn to bits. However, the Poly queen is larger than the
Formican defenders and literally pushes them aside, aided by
some kind of insect repellent that she manufactures in her
abdomen. Once inside the nest, Queen Poly heads straight for
Queen Formica, who is about the same size as Poly. A battle
royal ensues. If Poly prevails, she has repeatedly bitten and licked
the wounds of the dying Formican queen for about 25 minutes.
Surprisingly, just a few seconds after their queen''s death, the
Formica workers suddenly become quite friendly towards Queen
Poly and start grooming her! At this point, she piles up the
Formican pupae, climbs up on top of the pile and voila! She has
taken over the nest. She can then go on to lay her own eggs,
which will be tended by her newfound willing subjects.

Why does she get away with this takeover? It seems that in the
course of battling and licking the fallen queen, the queenly
Formican scent is transferred to the Poly queen. The workers go
by the smell, not the looks of the queen. Topoff and his graduate
students have done experiments confirming this view. In one
experiment, they took the Formica queen out of the nest. When
Poly entered the nest this time, the smaller Formican defenders
mounted a concerted attack, pinned her down and killed her. In
another experiment to check out the scent hypothesis, a frozen
dead Formican queen was defrosted and the body was placed in
the nest just before sticking the Poly queen into the picture. As
predicted, Poly went right in and attacked the dead queen with all
the same biting and licking for about 25 minutes, as if Queen
Formica was still alive. The result was that the Formicans were
just as compliant as when the live queen was killed, confirming
that scent is the key.

The life of royalty is certainly precarious in the ant kingdom, or
more accurately, queendom. An interesting question - why, in the
insect world, are the queens always the dominant ones? Have
you ever heard of a king bee? While all red-blooded American
males were watching the football game for the national collegiate
championship, was I the only one watching the PBS Nova
program on honeybees? The poor male bees die upon mating
with the queen in flight, while the female worker bees work so
hard that they only live for about a month. The queen bee,
however, lives between one and four years, according to the
program. In the bee world, like in the ant world, the successful
queen has to be a murderer. When the queens are emerging from
their pupal stage, the first queen to hatch quickly searches out the
other queens still in their cells or the ones just emerging from
their cells and does her best to kill them all. If any remain, there
is a fight between the survivors. The fight shown on the program
ended in a draw, which meant that one queen had to leave the
hive with an entourage of bees from the hive. It wasn''t clear how
it was decided which queen had to leave.

But back to the ants, Topoff says that in a typical Poly ant colony
there may be 2,000 Polys and 3,000 Formicans. Topoff in the
end decides that perhaps "slavery" is not the appropriate term for
the relationship between the two types of ants. Rather, for the
young Formicans brought up in the Poly nests, the only family
they know is the Poly family. Furthermore, if other Formicans
should intrude on the Poly nest, the Poly-Formicans will respond
in an aggressive manner against the intruder Formicans. For these
reasons, Topoff suggests a better analogy to human behavior
would be "adoption". The Formican workers carry out the same
behavior they would in the normal Formican nests so that life for
them is not significantly different than it would be in their normal
habitat.

Unfortunately, this point of view may leave our own species with
the distinction of inventing a form of slavery that certainly
imposes unacceptable penalties on those enslaved. At least we
can be heartened by the fact that, after the Columbine tragedy
near Denver, these young grade school students have shown
compassion and the ability to make a positive difference.

Sorry if this seems more of a political column than science but I
guess my childhood experience left a lasting impression that had
to come out sometime. Next week, perhaps we''ll consider
something more quirky, those pesky up, down and strange
quarks!

Allen F. Bortrum



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-01/11/2000-      
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Dr. Bortrum

01/11/2000

Slavery - Human & Otherwise

I recently saw the end of a segment on the nightly news that dealt
with modern day slavery in the Sudan and was surprised to hear
that slavery was still in existence anywhere to a substantial
degree. The part of the news piece that I saw showed some
grade school students in the Denver area who heard about this
problem from their teacher. The teacher, who had told her
students earlier that slavery was a thing of the past, wanted to
correct herself when she learned of the Sudan situation. The
students'' response was, "What are we going to do about it?"
Amazingly, they did do something about it and began raising
enough money to actually buy the freedom of a number of slaves.
I searched the Web and found on pbs.org a story from May of last
year about these fourth grade students and it seems that over a
thousand slaves had their freedom purchased by the money they
raised! The money, according to the PBS story, was funneled
through an organization called Christian Solidarity International,
which buys the freedom in a clandestine manner from the northern
Sudanese slave traders at $50 a head! I''ll leave it to Brian
Trumbore to comment further on this whole subject. Some have
maintained that this approach only encourages slave trading,
certainly an arguable point.

My mother was born in Princess Anne, Maryland, where my
grandmother owned a rooming house just off the main street. In
the course of my Web browsing, I found an article from a
Maryland newspaper about a racial discrimination suit of a few
years ago in which the plaintiff worked in Princess Anne. What
intrigued me was mention in the article that, back in the days of
slavery, slaves were bought and sold just a couple blocks from the
office of the African-American plaintiff in the lawsuit. Not only
that, but the office was just a short distance from the tree upon
which a man was hanged in the last lynching in Princess Anne.

I believe that I had personal experience with that lynching. One
day in the 1930s, our family drove down from Pennsylvania to
visit my grandmother. We arrived in Princess Anne in the
afternoon to find along the main street a substantial number of
law officers of some sort, possibly state troopers, with guns.
They were there to make sure an event scheduled for that night
went smoothly, with no trouble. The scheduled event was the
lynching of a black man, I believe accused of raping a white girl.
My mother made sure I was in bed early that night, shielding me
from witnessing such a traumatic event. It turned out that the
lynch mob wanted to hang the fellow on my grandmother''s tree
but she, a wisp of a lady less than 5 feet tall, stood her ground and
refused to allow it. So, the mob found another tree, apparently
the tree mentioned in the recent article. For those African-
Americans impatient with the progress made in the field of civil
rights, it should be a comfort to know that at least such blatant
miscarriages of justice are no longer condoned.

Slavery is not unique to Homo sapiens. I was fascinated by an
article titled "Slave-Making Queens" in the November 1999 issue
of Scientific American. It turns out that over 200 species of ants
are slave owners in one form or another. The author of the article
is Dr. Howard Topoff, a professor in the psychology department
at Hunter College of C.U.N.Y. Obviously not your typical
psychologist, he has spent the last 15 years studying the ant
Polygerus breviceps. Let''s just call the ant Poly for short.
Judging from the pictures in the article, Poly is a red ant. Topoff
has studied extensively the evolution of social behavior in insects,
perhaps realizing that trying to figure out human social behavior
is really a lost cause!

The other ant species in the cast of characters is the Formica ant,
ironically, a black ant. The interaction of these two types of ants
is truly bizarre, rivaling anything human despots have contrived,
with battles, palace intrigue, murder and slavery. The battles
involve Poly ant raids on the nests of the Formicans. The
objective of these raids is the abduction by the Polys of Formican
pupae from the nest. The Polys carry the pupae back to their own
nests, where the pupae mature into full-blown Formican workers.
Not knowing any better, the young Formicans, finding themselves
in the Polys'' nest, just assume that they too are Polys. Actually,
the real Polys aren''t cut out for tending to household chores such
as tidying up the nest, cooking (well, the equivalent - foraging for
food), feeding the young or tending the queen. The Formicans,
on the other hand, are hard workers and end up doing all these
chores for the nest as a whole. From the article, it seems as
though the Polys aren''t much good for anything but raiding
Formican nests. In fact, the Polys would perish without their
Formican slaves since they''ve completely lost the ability to fend
for themselves.

The palace intrigue involves the Poly and Formican queens.
During the Poly raids, the heat of battle seems to stir up the
passions and young Poly queens mate right there on the
battlefield! Apparently, they feel pretty euphoric after mating and
decide to head off to set up a new colony of their own.

When they''re far enough away from their home base, they find
another Formican nest and fight their way down into it. Once in a
while, this rambunctious behavior results in the Poly interloper
being torn to bits. However, the Poly queen is larger than the
Formican defenders and literally pushes them aside, aided by
some kind of insect repellent that she manufactures in her
abdomen. Once inside the nest, Queen Poly heads straight for
Queen Formica, who is about the same size as Poly. A battle
royal ensues. If Poly prevails, she has repeatedly bitten and licked
the wounds of the dying Formican queen for about 25 minutes.
Surprisingly, just a few seconds after their queen''s death, the
Formica workers suddenly become quite friendly towards Queen
Poly and start grooming her! At this point, she piles up the
Formican pupae, climbs up on top of the pile and voila! She has
taken over the nest. She can then go on to lay her own eggs,
which will be tended by her newfound willing subjects.

Why does she get away with this takeover? It seems that in the
course of battling and licking the fallen queen, the queenly
Formican scent is transferred to the Poly queen. The workers go
by the smell, not the looks of the queen. Topoff and his graduate
students have done experiments confirming this view. In one
experiment, they took the Formica queen out of the nest. When
Poly entered the nest this time, the smaller Formican defenders
mounted a concerted attack, pinned her down and killed her. In
another experiment to check out the scent hypothesis, a frozen
dead Formican queen was defrosted and the body was placed in
the nest just before sticking the Poly queen into the picture. As
predicted, Poly went right in and attacked the dead queen with all
the same biting and licking for about 25 minutes, as if Queen
Formica was still alive. The result was that the Formicans were
just as compliant as when the live queen was killed, confirming
that scent is the key.

The life of royalty is certainly precarious in the ant kingdom, or
more accurately, queendom. An interesting question - why, in the
insect world, are the queens always the dominant ones? Have
you ever heard of a king bee? While all red-blooded American
males were watching the football game for the national collegiate
championship, was I the only one watching the PBS Nova
program on honeybees? The poor male bees die upon mating
with the queen in flight, while the female worker bees work so
hard that they only live for about a month. The queen bee,
however, lives between one and four years, according to the
program. In the bee world, like in the ant world, the successful
queen has to be a murderer. When the queens are emerging from
their pupal stage, the first queen to hatch quickly searches out the
other queens still in their cells or the ones just emerging from
their cells and does her best to kill them all. If any remain, there
is a fight between the survivors. The fight shown on the program
ended in a draw, which meant that one queen had to leave the
hive with an entourage of bees from the hive. It wasn''t clear how
it was decided which queen had to leave.

But back to the ants, Topoff says that in a typical Poly ant colony
there may be 2,000 Polys and 3,000 Formicans. Topoff in the
end decides that perhaps "slavery" is not the appropriate term for
the relationship between the two types of ants. Rather, for the
young Formicans brought up in the Poly nests, the only family
they know is the Poly family. Furthermore, if other Formicans
should intrude on the Poly nest, the Poly-Formicans will respond
in an aggressive manner against the intruder Formicans. For these
reasons, Topoff suggests a better analogy to human behavior
would be "adoption". The Formican workers carry out the same
behavior they would in the normal Formican nests so that life for
them is not significantly different than it would be in their normal
habitat.

Unfortunately, this point of view may leave our own species with
the distinction of inventing a form of slavery that certainly
imposes unacceptable penalties on those enslaved. At least we
can be heartened by the fact that, after the Columbine tragedy
near Denver, these young grade school students have shown
compassion and the ability to make a positive difference.

Sorry if this seems more of a political column than science but I
guess my childhood experience left a lasting impression that had
to come out sometime. Next week, perhaps we''ll consider
something more quirky, those pesky up, down and strange
quarks!

Allen F. Bortrum