A new study has found that ants have an amazing ability to combine physical strength with intelligence and intuition in order to lift heavy loads. They also work together as a cohesive unit to carry animals or chunks of food that are larger than they are.
For instance, it takes at least a dozen ants moving in unison to carry a large insect and their communication skills are so sharp that the entire group can adjust their trajectory based on the information offered by a single ant commonly referred to as “the scout”.
When this scout realizes that the group is either getting off course or heading straight into danger, it simply tugs at a different angle and the rest of the ants fall in line after it.
Ofer Feinerman, lead author and field expert from the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel), gave a statement explaining that “The individual ant has the idea of how to pass an obstacle but lacks the muscle power to move the load” all on its own. He went on to add that “The group is there to amplify the leader’s strength so that she can actually implement her idea”.
What’s even more impressive is that the leader changes every 10 to 20 seconds. That’s how long it takes for a new ant with updated information to get in front of the group. And the insects trust and follow every the new leader with the same compliance. Feinerman also mentioned that scouts are no different than any other ant.
Another interesting finding is that the leader is always a she, never a he, and that no one designates her as the leader, she simply designates herself when she realizes that she has current, relevant information about which direction the group should head in.
Ants are some of the few species on the planet that organize among themselves in order to carry heavy loads together. One of the main challenges in such a system is finding the right balance between each member synchronizing their actions with the rest of the group, and each member maintaining a level of flexibility that allows them to adapt to new obstacles or circumstances.
The optimal number of members in a group of ants is 15.
The working theory is that an ant takes on the leadership position just by showing up and that she doesn’t even have to communicate her presence to the rest of the group.
The study was conducted on longhorn crazy ants and published earlier this month in the journal Nature Communications.
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