Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Minding the Gap

Image result for ants

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

A short video, just one minute, on the behavior of Army ants in the face of a bridge collapse, a bridge composed of themselves is, put simply, mind boggling. What stunning behavior. It is another example of the wonder of life.

The collapse and recovery of an Army ant bridge was filmed at the at the well known Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Army ants are nearly blind with teeny brains yet they are capable of solving this complex logistical problem (and others). It is no wonder that biological researchers find them so attractive to study both in the laboratory and in the field. There are many puzzles to be solved and they are excellent research subjects.

I include the link to the Swarm Lab of the New Jersey Institute of Technology even though the introductory remarks includes the link. There, "mechanisms underlying the coordination of large animal groups, such as ant colonies or human crowds, and their  applications such as the organization of pedestrian traffic or the control of robotic swarms. We  study how information is exchanged and transformed during interactions between the members of a group, and how this can lead to the emergence of 'intelligent' group behaviors. In short, we study Swarm intelligence," and, as is also noted, "Swarm stupidity."

h/t to Aeon.

Army ants have tiny brains and are nearly blind, yet they routinely perform extraordinary feats of engineering, building bridges with their bodies to span gaps that they need to cross. In this video from the Swarm Lab of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, recorded at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island in Panama, researchers pulled apart one of these bridges to study how army ants recover from such a rupture. One conclusion is that, although individual ants are incapable of understanding the movement of their colony as a whole, they have evolved a behavioural code that tells them to stop in their tracks if another ant is walking on top of them, a strategy that allows them to rebuild quickly. There are, however, some more complex army ant-bridge manoeuvres that researchers are still attempting to explain, such as when ants will construct a shortcut bridge rather than taking a longer route. Capturing this phenomenon close-up in a lab, this short video observes the surprising capabilities of collective intelligence to solve complex logistical problems.

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