Monday, May 28, 2007

...and Small

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise.”

The words of King Solomon come to mind amid new research on how army ants move efficiently over terrain which, from an ant’s point of view, is full of holes and other obstacles. The answer: living pothole-fillers. Scott Powell and Nigel Franks of the University of Bristol reported that ants of the species Eciton burchellii fill holes by climbing into them, adjusting their bodies to fit, and letting their sisters march over them. If the hole is too big, several ants will climb in. The behavior observed in Central and South America was duplicated in the laboratory, where ants marching over boards with holes drilled into them essentially took individual action to make the march of the colony more efficient. When the horde has passed, the “filler” ants clamber up and rejoin the march.

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