Inside the ant colony – Deborah M. Gordon

Think about all the things that need to happen for a human settlement to thrive: obtaining food, building shelter, raising children and more. There needs to be a way to divide resources, organize major efforts and distribute labor efficiently. Now imagine having to do this without any sort of planning or higher level communication. Welcome to the ant colony. Ants have some of the most complex social organization in the animal kingdom, living in structured colonies containing different types of members who perform specific roles. But although this may sound similar to some human societies, this organization doesn’t arise from any higher level decisions, but is part of a biologically programmed cycle. In many species, all the winged males and winged virgin queens from all the nearby colonies in the population each leave from their different nests and meet at a central place to mate, using pheromones to guide each other to a breeding ground. After mating, the males die off, while females try to establish a new colony. The few that are successful settle down in a suitable spot, lose their wings, and begin laying eggs, selectively fertilizing some using stored sperm they’ve saved up from mating. Fertilized eggs grow into female workers who care for the queen and her eggs. They will then defend the colony and forage for food, while unfertilized eggs grow into males whose only job is to wait until they are ready to leave the nest and reproduce, beginning the cycle again. So how do worker ants decide what to do and when? Well, they don’t really. Although they have no methods of intentional communication, individual ants do interact with one another through touch, sound and chemical signals. These stimuli accomplish many things from serving as an alarm to other ants if one is killed, to signaling when a queen is nearing the end of her reproductive life. But one of the most impressive collective capabilities of an ant colony is to thoroughly and efficiently explore large areas without any predetermined plan. Most species of ants have little or no sense of sight and can only smell things in their vicinity. Combined with their lack of high level coordination, this would seem to make them terrible explorers, but there is an amazingly simple way that ants maximize their searching efficiency; by changing their movement patterns based on individual interactions. When two ants meet, they sense each other by touching antennae. If there are many ants in a small area this will happen more often causing them to respond by moving in more convoluted, random paths in order to search more thoroughly. But in a larger area, with less ants, where such meetings happen less often, they can walk in straight lines to cover more ground. While exploring their environment in this way, an ant may come across any number of things, from threats or enemies, to alternate nesting sites. And some species have another capability known as recruitment. When one of these ants happens to find food, it will return with it, marking its path with a chemical scent. Other ants will then follow this pheromone trail, renewing it each time they manage to find food and return. Once the food in that spot is depleted, the ants stop marking their return. The scent dissipates and ants are no longer attracted to that path. These seemingly crude methods of search and retrieval are, in fact, so useful that they are applied in computer models to obtain optimal solutions from decentralized elements, working randomly and exchanging simple information. This has many theoretical and practical applications, from solving the famous traveling salesman problem, to scheduling computing tasks and optimizing Internet searches, to enabling groups of robots to search a minefield or a burning building collectively, without any central control. But you can observe these fascinatingly simple, yet effective, processes directly through some simple experiments, by allowing ants to enter empty spaces of various sizes and paying attention to their behavior. Ants may not be able to vote, hold meetings or even make any plans, but we humans may still be able to learn something from the way that such simple creatures are able to function so effectively in such complex ways.

100 thoughts on “Inside the ant colony – Deborah M. Gordon”

  1. Changed my mind about ants now. I will watch every single step I take when I am walking the street now just so I don't hurt one of the poor things. I'm sure you will notice me if you see me

  2. I love ants, but not in my house. 🙁 They always eat my food ya know 🙁 I've tried to get rid of them many times but they just keep comin' back.

  3. So THAT'S who they find my poisoned ant bait. They probably leave a trail. Works for me. Shouldn't be sneaking in my house. Lol

  4. I dropped a piece of ham off my Hawaiian pizza and in the morning it had lots of ants all over it…….who doesn't like ham. Lol

  5. I seen ants working cominicating humans use soundsvsnts us smells. And some male species Live in after. What you think no intentions . some other species can say the same about us

  6. Go to the ant, O sluggard;
    consider her ways, and be wise.
    Without having any chief,
    officer, or ruler,
    she prepares her bread in summer
    and gathers her food in harvest.
    How long will you lie there, O sluggard?

  7. We are too complex

    Complex problems require complex solutions

    ants are simple you see?

    simple problems require simple solutions

  8. Ants communicate chemically in ways that could never be compared to the way we communicate electrically. Think about how different it is when you hear a dog vs when you can smell one.

  9. They are ancient creatures means they are more advance than us since human started to create its own civilizations.

  10. I think there must be a God. How else are these species able to "know" what is required of them with such precision?

  11. Who says that humans have central controls? Clearly we have governments (more like members in specialized roles of government) but we don't have very successful central controls. If that was the case we wouldn't have revolutions, financial crisis, major political shift, changes in fashion or social revolutions… all of that is the adaptability of human groups to environmental or internal changes.

  12. I love watching all their moves and giving them food and sweets, I can never get rid of my good friends ♥️

  13. I watched a 15 second ad entirely just so you can get ad revenue
    Everyone: Careful! He's a hero

  14. Ants always facinated me because it is entertaining how they react to certain situations like when i put water or cover there holes up or throw rocks it really is entertaining to feed them sugar too it is the closest thing to forming a society

  15. Quran ch. 27
    15. And We gave David and Solomon knowledge. They said, “Praise God, who has favored us over many of His believing servants.”
    16. And Solomon succeeded David. He said, “O people, we were taught the language of birds, and we were given from everything. This is indeed a real blessing.”
    17. To the service of Solomon were mobilized his troops of sprites, and men, and birds—all held in strict order.
    18. Until, when they came upon the Valley of Ants, an ant said, “O ants! Go into your nests, lest Solomon and his troops crush you without noticing.”
    19. He smiled and laughed at her words, and said, “My Lord, direct me to be thankful for the blessings you have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and to do good works that please You. And admit me, by Your grace, into the company of Your virtuous servants.”
    20. Then he inspected the birds, and said, “Why do I not see the hoopoe? Or is he among the absentees?

  16. So ants are matriarchal. And men do nothing but reproduce and die easily. What a worthless life to be born a male ant.

  17. Went to mushroom farm, digging in their pile of compost I disturbed a fire ant colony, and they let me know it. My wrists are still burning and pusing, if you find fire ants get out of their space.

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