Wednesday, 29 July 2015

'Leaders and lifters' help ants move massive meals

By Jonathan Webb
Science reporter, BBC News

29 July 2015 
From the section Science & Environment

Scientists in Israel have discovered how ants co-operate to move big chunks of food back to their nests.

A large team of ants does the heavy lifting but they lack direction, while a small number of "scouts" intervene and steer for short periods.

They appear to have a mathematically perfect balance between individuality and conformism, the researchers said.

The discovery was made by analysing videos of ants carrying oversized food items, including Cheerios.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study used a very common species known as the longhorn crazy ant.

The only communication in the system is the forces that they feel through the objectDr Ofer Feinerman, Weizmann Institute of Science

The species' name refers to the way the little creatures dash about, frequently changing direction with apparently aimless abandon.

But the new findings suggest that the level of aimlessness in these ants' behaviour is in fact very finely tuned.
Pushy scouts

"The group is tuned to be maximally sensitive to the leader ants," said the paper's senior author Dr Ofer Feinerman, a physicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

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