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Ant Colonies Respond To Predation As 'Superorganism,' Researchers Say

Nov 12, 2015 01:29 PM EST
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During times of crisis, ants stick together and act as one collective "superorganism." In a recent study, researchers from the University of Bristol, England, shook things up a bit in 30 migrating ant colonies, removing either scouts or worker ants to simulate a predatory attack.

During one trial, researchers removed scouting ants from the outer edges of their nest and found that foraging ants responded by retreating to the safety of their homes, according to the university's news release.

However, the opposite happened when researchers removed ants from the center of the nest during a separate trial. In this case, researchers found the colony decided to flee the nest as a whole and seek shelter in a new location.

Ant colonies are complex systems built on the cooperation of individual members. Scout ants are the little guys in charge of finding safe places to live. They are sent out to look for new homes and work together to move individuals out of their old nest and into the new one, making sure to bring along their queen. Worker ants, on the other hand, do the hard labor, foraging and building. 

''Ants react very differently, and in a coordinated fashion, to perceived predator attacks depending on their location. Just as we may respond to cell damage via pain, ant colonies respond to the loss of individuals via group awareness and reaction," Dr. Thomas O'Shea-Wheller, a Ph.D. student in Bristol's School of Biological Sciences and one of the authors of the study, explained in a statement.

The study's findings, recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, shed light on the nervous systems of single organisms. 

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