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Ants and Their Food: How Perpetually Lost Breadwinners Find Their Way [VIDEOS]

Aug 08, 2015 05:09 PM EDT
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Even if you don't remember your grade-school biology classes, Marvel's recent Ant Man movie has reminded us that the average ant is capable of some incredible feats, including lifting anywhere between 100 and 5000 times its own body weight. However, when carrying something that's too big to see around, how do the insects find their way? New research has the answer.

According to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, ants working together to carry a particularly large chunk of food will always defer to the newest member of their group so they won't otherwise completely lose their way.

What exactly do I mean by that? Imagine for a minute that you and two of your friends are tasked with carrying an especially tall and wide couch. Each member of your group has a very limited and different idea of where they are headed and to make matters worse, you cannot shout out to one another to stay on course.

According to researchers, this situation is no different for foraging ants, and groups cooperating to carry large treasure back to the nest frequently start strange games of tug-of-war, with each carrier trying to bring the food in a different direction. (Scroll to read on...)


[Credit: Ehud Fonio and Ofer Feinerman]

The result is that, unlike treasure carried by a single individual, large pieces of food never take a direct path back towards the colony. However, according to research lead Ofer Feinerman of the Weizmann Institute of Science, the food still usually makes it. This, he says, is largely thanks to the frequent arrival of new help - ants that a group will let lead the procession for 10 to 20 seconds until they become just as lost as the rest.

With newly attached ants often taking the place of one that has wandered away, the carried food will constantly lose its way and then get back on course until reaching the nest at last. (Scroll to read on...)


[Credit: Ehud Fonio, Aviram Gelblum and Ofer Feinerman]

"In this system, the wisdom does not come from crowds," Feinerman explained in a statement. "Rather, some individuals supply the 'brains,' and the role of the group is to amplify the 'muscle' power of savvy individuals so that they can actually move the load."

It's an efficient system among creatures with limited memory and insight. However, I wouldn't recommend trying something similar when moving into your next apartment... that is, unless you planned to take a tour of the neighborhood while carrying your couch.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

 - follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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