A fascinating study has revealed that ants have an impressive knack for combining the collective power of the “people” with the leaders’ initiative for lifting and carrying.
Researchers have conducted experiments that showed how a single ant joining a dozen others that lift in unison a large insect can change the way things are done, based solely on the guidance provided by the ant that joined the collective effort.
When the ant noticed that the group was somehow deviating from course or was heading for a dangerous spot, it was enough for the “scout” to subtly tug in a different direction – surprisingly enough, the group of ants did not resist the angle change, but fell into line.
According to leading researcher Ofer Feinerman of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, it proved that it was not enough for the individual ant to know how to pass the obstacle, but it needed the muscle power of the group to move the load in a safe trip. The leader’s idea cannot be implemented lest the group is there to amplify it with strength.
Even more fascinating was to observe how the leading role was passed from one scout to a new one with more updated information about the terrain, situation or potential danger; the same ant that once had the leading position would pass on the role to another one, sometimes even 10 to 20 seconds later.
Feinerman noticed that experiments did not suggest the scout had any extra or different abilities than the common ants. The leader is not designated in an ant community, but one ant or another – always a female – would take upon herself the leading role based on fresh knowledge about the right direction.
There are very few species of animals – besides humans – that have the ability to self-organize in order to carry heavy loads in a collective manner, loads that are usually a lot heavier than the weight of an individual member of the community, and ants are among those species.
One of the greatest challenges of this kind of collective work is finding the balance between synchronized action and flexibility that would keep the group safe and the task completed. Such coordinated movement is a quality that only some of the animals that live in groups have – such as ants and fish.
This ability is what helps the ants pull in the same direction and not apart. The balance is created by the information-bearing “scouts” that cancel the drawback that is sometimes created by the phenomenon of “behavior conformism.”
The results of the experiments were published in Nature Communications, and researchers performed them on Paratrechina longicornis, an invasive ant species spread worldwide.
Image Source: BBC Earth