Ants on Stilts for Science

Posted on June 30, 2006  Comments (5)

Ant on stilts

When Ants Go Marching, They Count Their Steps by Bjorn Carey

One is that they do it like honeybees and remember visual cues, but experiments revealed ants can navigate in the dark and even blindfolded. Another disproved hypothesis was that because ants scurry at a steady pace, they could time how long it took them to get to and fro. Other studies have shown that once ants find a good source of food, they teach other ants how to find it.

The ant “pedometer” technique was first proposed in 1904, but it remained untested until now.

Scientists trained desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis, to walk along a straight path from their nest entrance to a feeder 30 feet away. If the nest or feeder was moved, the ants would break from their straight path after reaching the anticipated spot and search for their goal.

A simple example of the scientific process (another one posted yesterday about birds and global warming).

The ants on stilts took the right number of steps, but because of their increased stride length, marched past their goal. Stump-legged ants, meanwhile, fell short of the goal.

After getting used to their new legs, the ants were able to adjust their pedometer and zero in on home more precisely, suggesting that stride length serves as an ant pedometer.

5 Responses to “Ants on Stilts for Science”

  1. Curious Cat Science Blog » Cool Crow Research
    February 23rd, 2008 @ 8:48 pm

    The goal of this project is to create a device that will autonomously train crows. Initially we’re training them to deposit dropped coins they find on the ground in exchange for peanuts…

  2. becky
    February 29th, 2008 @ 10:04 am

    Ants are amazingly smart. I watched a Discovery show about them creating tunnels out of other ants bodies to reach food sources. I wish somehow scientists could figure out how the ant’s brain works, but is it possible considering how small it is? Can you dissect an ant’s brain? Hmm…

  3. CuriousCat » Royal Ant Genes
    April 2nd, 2008 @ 10:07 am

    “When studying social insects like ants and bees, it’s often the cooperative aspect of their society that first stands out,” says Dr Hughes. “However, when you look more deeply, you can see there is conflict and cheating…”

  4. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Ants Counting Their Step
    November 30th, 2009 @ 11:32 am

    […] posted about this back in 2006: Ants on Stilts for Science, but the webcast by NPR is worth a new […]

  5. Huge Ant Nest » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog
    February 6th, 2014 @ 2:29 am

    The ant nest goes 8 meters into the earth. The nest is engineered with vents to promote the flow of air, bringing in fresh air and expelling carbon dioxide created by the large fungus gardens…

Leave a Reply