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Scientists Made A Lego Maze To See How Groups Of Ants Coordinate


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockNov 15 2016, 22:00 UTC

University of Colorado, Boulder, via Helen McCreery/YouTube

The massive “hive-mind” ability exhibited by tiny insects remains one of nature’s little understood tricks. But you don’t need fancy equipment to investigate it, you just need some ants, a tin of tuna, and some Lego pieces.

Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, looked into the collective coordination tactics of longhorn crazy ants (Paratrechina longicornis) by watching how they team up to carry chunks of tuna through a simple Lego maze back towards their nest. The study was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.


The first obstacle was a simple straight wall. The majority of the groups did not stall once while carrying the tuna around this, and simply continued to follow the wall until an opening became available.

The main event was a “cul-de-sac” Lego wall. When it came to traversing this obstacle, many of the ant groups struggled. However, very strangely, the ants all simultaneously seemed to reach a point where they realized their current strategy wasn’t working for them, whereby they all moved in the opposite direction. How they communicated this and created a consensus remains a mystery.

In an evil twist, the biologists then put the ants carrying the tuna in a trapped-in Lego wall, where they couldn't escape. Remarkably, the ants gave up trying within about one minute. However, with the cul-de-sac, they continued to struggle for 10 minutes or so. This suggests that they can distinguish between the trap and the cul-de-sac. The researchers said this could be because the trap “prevents other ants from entering the obstacle and interacting with the transport group.”  


They concluded by saying: "We show that P. longicornis groups are able to collectively navigate complex environments by using a cohesive, flexible and robust navigation strategy." 

How these ant-brained insects managed to pull off this relatively complex task, again, remains one of nature's secrets.

[H/T: New York Times]

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