Secret life of ants

Ants use great teamwork skills, study finds

Israeli researchers show ants organize into intricate formations under supervision of leaders to carry heavy objects

Ants carry cat food across VeeVee Merlin-Knopp's kitchen floor (VeeVee Merlin-Knopp)
Ants carry cat food across VeeVee Merlin-Knopp's kitchen floor (VeeVee Merlin-Knopp)

Ants configure into complex formations under the coaching of group leaders in order to transport heavy objects to their nest, researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute in Rehovot found.

The ants used in the study published Tuesday, the longhorn crazy ant, formed surprisingly logical formations and worked together as a group 90 percent of the time.

The ants worked as a team to pull heavy food items, such as Cheerios, in the same direction, with leaders guiding the group in the correct direction.

The ants were able to reorganize into new formations when faced with obstacles.

The insects communicated through the push-and-pull of the group, attuned to “the forces that they feel through the object,” said the study’s senior author Dr. Ofer Feinerman, according to the BBC.

However, when the ants were faced with extremely heavy objects, their movement became less flexible. The guiding ants were recruited to carry the load and thus were unable to guide the group around obstacles.

In 10% of cases, the group lost coordination and each ant was on his own. But the erratic behavior could prove useful, as a single ant was able to reassert control and lead the group in the right direction, the researchers found.

The experiment was inspired by a colleague of the researchers, who noticed ants stealing cat food from his apartment and filmed them in action.

“We watched it and we realized it was very interesting…. We’ve been working on it for four years now,” said Feinerman, according to the BBC.

Coincidentally earlier this week, The Times of Israel reported on Jerusalem resident VeeVee Merlin-Knopp, who documented the eye-catching formations of ants that transported cat food in her yard.

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