New research explains how ants work together to move their food to a desired location.
A group of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel studied ants and their behavior for several years, and may have found out how ants cooperate to carry food through a balance of conformist behavior and individual direction, according to a release on EurekAlert.
Ants surround large objects in a group effort to carry them. The front ants pull while the back ones lift. Dr. Ofer Feinerman and his group in the Institute’s Physics of Complex Systems Department used video analysis to track ants in a group carrying a large item to find out how they stayed on track.
The more ants carrying an item, the faster they could move towards their nest. It was discovered however, that while the ants kept on a general track towards their nest, their path was typically full of wrong turns and corrections.
Ants communicate through chemicals called pheromones, reports Popular Science. This communication allows the ants to follow each other to food.
When ants find a large piece of food, they will either bite it into smaller pieces to bring back individually, or work together to carry large pieces whole.
What the scientists discovered in their research was that groups of ants moving large pieces of cereal often lost track of the most direct route back to their nest. This could be because the larger food blocked their antennae, making navigation difficult.
Ants moving individually with smaller bits of food had a better sense of direction, and would lead others back on course as they came in contact in their travels.
The ants would follow the leader for a short time, before getting off track again. Another ant would come along, correcting the course, and the ants would follow until the trail was lost. The process would repeat itself repeatedly.
If all of the ants tried to go in different directions, the food wouldn’t budge. If they moved in the same direction, they could move the food more quickly. This explains how they would go off course as they all worked together to keep moving.
In order to work together, the ants had to be conformists. If one ant wants to go in a different direction, she would give in and go with the group. “One ant grabs the object and she feels it is going to the let and doesn’t want to fight the other ants, she also pulls to the left,” said Dr. Feinerman.
So everyone has to be a conformist. One ant grabs the object and she feels it is going to the left and doesn’t want to fight the other ants, and so she also pulls to the left.
In other ant related news, scientists recently discovered how trap-jaw ants use their powerful mandibles to escape predators.