Most Ants In A Colony Do Absolutely Nothing

Posted: Aug 17 2018, 1:39pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 18 2018, 12:33am CDT , in Latest Science News


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Most Ants in a Colony Do Absolutely Nothing

For ants, having more workers does not necessarily mean getting more work done

Ants are eusocial insects, meaning they live in communities with thousands of other individuals and play their specialized roles. They have long been recognized as tireless workers, but a closer look reveals otherwise.

Observing colonies of fire ants maintained in lab, researchers have found that a large number of ants do absolutely nothing. Just as too many cooks in kitchen get in each other’s way, having too many ants in confined spaces like tunnels could create hindrance in digging nest. For ants, this lazy approach gets the job done without a traffic jam and ensures smooth operation.

"We noticed that if you have 150 ants in a container, only 10 or 15 of them will actually be digging in the tunnels at any given time," said Daniel Goldman from Georgia Institute of Technology. "We wanted to know why, and to understand how basic laws of physics might be at work. We found a functional, community benefit to this seeming inequality in the work environment. Without it, digging just doesn't get done."

For the study, researchers painted a group of 30 ants to identify each individual and monitored their activities inside a nest container. Researchers found that just 30 percent of the ants were doing 70 percent of the work, while the remaining ants were mostly inactive. That is apparently not because the busiest ants are the most qualified. To confirm their idea, researchers removed the five hardest working ants from the nest container. They, however, saw no decline in productivity as the remaining 25 continued to dig.

“Ants that live in complex subterranean environments have to develop sophisticated social rules to avoid the bad things that can happen when you have a lot of individuals in a crowded environment.” Goldman said.

The tunnels are narrow and have barely enough space for two ants to pass. The distinct approach of ants helps them work better together in a complex society and avoid blocking the way. This ant optimization strategy could also be used to control autonomous robots and to get the work done with the least amount of energy.

"When we put four robots into a confined environment and tried to get them to dig, they immediately jammed up," said Goldman. "While observing the ants, we were surprised to see that individuals would sometimes go to the tunnel and if they encountered even a small amount of clog, they'd just turn around and retreat. When we put those rules into combinations with the robots, that created a good strategy for digging rapidly with low amounts of energy use per robot.”

The findings could be useful for tasks such as disaster recovery, mining or space exploration where autonomous robots will be needed to dig tunnels for humans.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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