Extensive studies of vertebrates have shown that brain size scales to body size following power law functions. Most animals are substantially smaller than vertebrates, and extremely small animals face significant challenges relating to nervous system design and function, yet little is known about their brain allometry. Within a well-defined monophyletic taxon, Formicidae (ants), we analyzed how brain size scales to body size. An analysis of brain allometry for individuals of a highly polymorphic leaf-cutter ant, Atta colombica, shows that allometric coefficients differ significantly for small (<1.4 mg body mass) versus large individuals (b = 0.6003 and 0.2919, respectively). Interspecifically, allometric patterns differ for small (<0.9 mg body mass) versus large species (n = 70 species). Using mean values for species, the allometric coefficient for smaller species (b = 0.7961) is significantly greater than that for larger ones (b = 0.669). The smallest ants had brains that constitute ∼15% of their body mass, yet their brains were relatively smaller than predicted by an overall allometric coefficient of brain to body size. Our comparative and intraspecific studies show the extent to which nervous systems can be miniaturized in taxa exhibiting behavior that is apparently comparable to that of larger species or individuals.

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