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Fighting Rituals

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Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 838
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6083.838

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Summary

It's not just humans who engage in ritual combat. Groups of birds known as green wood hoopoes engage in calling contests (see p. 828), and some species of ants settle their differences with mock tournaments. For example, honeypot ants of the U.S. Southwest stage elaborate, ritualistic face-offs against nearby nests, involving hundreds of ants and sometimes lasting for days. Group displays convey the group's ability to compete. That birds and ants mount these shows of force suggests a common evolutionary pressure to minimize actual losses and demonstrates that such behaviors can emerge without organized leaders or higher thought processes.