Holidays are over, a new year has begun, the kids are back in school and researching ant behavior and biology is my assignment this week so that I can pass on unique information about these abundant, complex and interesting creatures.
So finding out that Ants, who by the way, never take holidays, are the first in nature to actually hold class and train others in a vital skill, was news to me. I always thought that ants were born knowing everything they needed to know to survive. The notion of “Hive Memory and Pheromone Trails” being firmly entrenched in my knowledge bank. Well here’s a new bit of knowledge to add to the bank.
There are certain Ants that teach each other how to find food by using a push, pull, pock and prod method, called “tandem running” In a new series of studies, researchers observed the first non-human example of formal instruction between a teacher and student in which two-way feedback initiates course adjustment and where both teacher and student modify their behavior to provide guidance at a rate appropriate for the student’s abilities.
When worker ants (always female) set out to find food they bring along another ant, and by employing “tandem running”, she teaches this second ant where to find food.
This process is slow, since the follower pauses every so often, creating a gap between the leader and herself, to acknowledge landmarks important for return trips. When the follower is ready to continue, she hurries to catch up to the leader and taps her on the hind legs signaling her readiness to move on. The leader will slow her progress if the gap between her and her pupil becomes to great and the opposite occurs if the gap becomes too small.
Why do ants take the time to instruct in this manner? According to Nigel Franks, (University of Bristol professor with expertise in Animal Communications, Zoology and Ecology), study leader and foremost ant researcher states, “They are very close nest mates and their society as a whole, benefits from this behavior”. He also states that, “This behavior indicates that it could be the value of information, rather than the constraint of brain size, that has influenced the evolution of teaching.”
Other Interesting Ant Facts:
- Ants are capable of carrying objects 50 times their own body weight with their mandibles.
- Soldier ants use their heads to plug the entrances to their nests and keep intruders from gaining access.
- Certain ant species defend plants in exchange for food and shelter.
- Ants will enslave other ants, keeping them captive and making them do work for the colony.
- Ants started farming long before humans.
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