Ants live in giant, complex colonies where sometimes millions of ants are able to not get in each other’s way. In order to find out how ants are capable of living in such large collectives harmoniously, researchers ran a study where they tried to determine a mathematical model for how ants recognize and deal with a barrier in their path.

An obstacle with a small opening was placed between the ants and a morsel of food for this initial experiment. According to the mathematical model, the ants would either go around the obstacle, or attempt to squeeze through the opening. The path taken would depend on how many ants there were on that particular path, and the number of ants itself depended on the size of the morsel of food.

In practice, the experiment consisted of a small area that was separated by a clear plastic wall with a hole in it. On one side, you had the ants, and on the other, you had various ring-shaped cargos of different sizes that were smeared with cat food.

The ants organized themselves with several ants at the front following the pheromone trail and pulling the cargo, with the ants at the back either pushing or lifting the load in order to reduce friction during transportation. The ants at the back also seemed to tailor their behavior according to cues that they received from the ants at the front. Through careful observation, it soon became apparent that the ants were working on instinct, reinforcing motions that have been perfected over many ant generations.

There is also a lot of strength in numbers, not just in the amount of weight that they can carry, but in the intelligence with which they carry it. When you have a small group of ants carrying cargo, they will be more indecisive and vacillating near the hole and obstacle. However, when the number of ants is larger, they will be able to make collective decisions faster and be more efficient in finding a passageway.

What this experiment tells us is that as an ant colony grows and the ants become more numerous, they become capable of more and more complex tasks. There also seems to be a sort of collective intelligence where the number of ants corresponds to the number of data inputs that inform decisions. Needless to say, it’s important to take care of an ant infestation when the numbers are small and the ants are not proficient enough to grow their numbers exponentially. Contact us today if you have problems with ants in your home, and we will help you get the infestation under control.