Myrmecophiles are parasitic beetles that use chemical cues to fool ants into bringing them into their nests and regurgitating food into their mouths, diverting the colony's bounty of semi-digested ant-chow from the queen and her babies to their own hungry guts. Ant Lab shows us how a Xenodusa beetle can con Camponotus ants into a lifetime of free meals and cuddles. For further reading, check out Behavior and exocrine glands in the myrmecophilous beetle Lomechusoides strumosus (Fabricius, 1775) (formerly called Lomechusa strumosa) (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae: Aleocharinae) in PLOS One. (Thanks, Adrian!)
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When fire ants dig out a new nest underground, a small number are actually doing most of the work while the rest dilly-dally. Apparently this is actually an effective division of labor because it prevents the insects from getting in each other's way. Now, Georgia Tech researchers suggest this approach could be help future robot swarms be more efficient in cramped areas like collapsed buildings or construction sites. From Science News:
(Physicist Daniel) Goldman’s team created computer simulations of two ant colonies digging tunnels. In one, the virtual ants mimicked the real insects’ unequal work split; in the other, all the ants pitched in equally. The colony with fewer heavy lifters was better at keeping tunnel traffic moving; in three hours, that colony dug a tunnel that was about three times longer than the group of ants that all did their fair share.
Goldman’s team then tested the fire ants’ teamwork strategy on autonomous robots. These robots trundled back and forth along a narrow track, scooping up plastic balls at one end and dumping them at the other. Programming the robots to do equal work is “not so bad when you have two or three,” Goldman says, “but when you get four in that little narrow tunnel, forget about it.” The four-bot fleet tended to get stuck in pileups. Programming the robots to share the workload unequally helped avoid these smashups and move material 35 percent faster, the researchers found.
"Collective clog control: Optimizing traffic flow in confined biological and robophysical excavation" (Science)
(image: Stephen Ausmus/Wikipedia) Read the rest
A fresh hell for the flooded plains of Texas: Yes, That's a Huge Floating Mass of Live Fire Ants in Texas. (Photo: Brant Kelly / CC BY 2.0)
“Holy crap. I have never, in my entire career as an ant researcher, seen *anything* like this,” tweeted Alex Wild, curator of entomology at University of Texas at Austin, in response to the image below. Of course, Wild told me, it is all perfectly logical. “They actually love floods,” says Wild. “It’s how they get around.” Fire ants displaced by water form rafts; a lot of fire ants displaced by a lot of water will form really big rafts. But still! The sheer size of them is incredible.
Dish soap breaks the surface tension and they sink. Read the rest
Namibian desert Hotrod ants have evolved to tiptoe around to avoid baking to death in the unrelenting sun. But other dangers lurk, like these terrifying real-life sarlacc pits created by antlions. Read the rest
AntsCanada (previously) has an overpopulation problem in his yellow crazy ant colony, so he added two kinds of carnivorous pitcher plants. The resulting relationship between ant versus plant turned out to be quite fascinating. Read the rest
AntsCanada's colony of Yellow Crazy Ants got infested with mites, so he had to transfer them to a new home in a beautiful terrarium he dubs Hacienda Del Dorado. Quite a production! Read the rest
Ants Eating Stuff to Stock Music is "Nothing more than oddly satisfying time-lapse videos of ants eating stuff all set to random stock music."
It's interesting how the ants covered the Rice Krispie Treat and McDonald's Hot Apple Pie with cut leaves. Why?
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Someone sent a wind-up robot tottering into a nest of Australian bull ants, a species "characterised by their extreme aggressiveness, ferocity, and painful stings." It's a delight to watch these formicidaen bullies spend themselves impotently on the unfeeling skin of a toy, thus proving the superiority of humans over jerky ants. (via Beyond the Beyond) Read the rest
Colonies of ants base decisions like where to establish a nest based on their population density. Scientists theorize that ants can estimate how many of their kind are around by randomly exploring the area and bumping into other ants. New research from MIT computer scientists not only supports this theory but could also be used to analyze social networks, improve robot swarms, and yield improve algorithms for networked communications in distributed computing applications. From MIT News:
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“It’s intuitive that if a bunch of people are randomly walking around an area, the number of times they bump into each other will be a surrogate of the population density,” says Cameron Musco, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and a co-author on the new paper. “What we’re doing is giving a rigorous analysis behind that intuition, and also saying that the estimate is a very good estimate, rather than some coarse estimate. As a function of time, it gets more and more accurate, and it goes nearly as fast as you would expect you could ever do.”
Musco and his coauthors — his advisor, NEC Professor of Software Science and Engineering Nancy Lynch, and Hsin-Hao Su, a postdoc in Lynch’s group — characterize an ant’s environment as a grid, with some number of other ants scattered randomly across it. The ant of interest — call it the explorer — starts at some cell of the grid and, with equal probability, moves to one of the adjacent cells. Then, with equal probability, it moves to one of the cells adjacent to that one, and so on.
In this video a butterfly is trying to eat something but a turfy ant won't let it. Read the rest
Here are side-by-side video clips comparing a bunch of fire ants with different kinds of liquid.
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Fire ants use their claws to grip diverse surfaces, including each other. As a result of their mutual adhesion and large numbers, ant colonies flow like inanimate fluids. This film shows how ants behave similarly to the spreading of drops, the capillary rise of menisci, and gravity-driven flow down a wall. By emulating the flow of fluids, ant colonies can remain united under stressful conditions.
These ants circle an iPhone like it's the Ka'aba in Mecca. Read the rest
Leafcutter ants are fascinating tropical creatures that farm fungus gardens, require access to certain resources in order to survive and grow, and are constantly splitting off from the pack to form new colonies with connections to the old. Which, of course, makes them the perfect species to adapt into a version of Settlers of Catan, as entomologist M.L. Henneman has done. Read the rest
As they move through tunnels dug in a wide variety of soils, ants do sometimes slip and fall down their own shafts. But they catch themselves, with their limbs and even with their antenna. Scientists are studying the ways ants brace against a fall to help design better robotos for search-and-rescue missions. Read the rest
University of Lausanne biologists chipped hundreds of ants and digitally tracked them to see how they form social groups and work collectively to get stuff done. Based on the data, they created heat maps and visualized the ants' trajectories. From Nature:
The biologists… have found that the workers fall into three social groups that perform different roles: nursing the queen and young; cleaning the colony; and foraging for food. The different groups move around different parts of the nest, and the insects tend to graduate from one group to another as they age, the researchers write in a paper published today in Science.
“The paper is a game-changer, in the size and detail of the data set that was collected,” says Anna Dornhaus, an entomologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
"Tracking whole colonies shows ants make career moves" (Thanks, Nic Weidinger!)
Below is a video, accelerated five times. Read the rest
There's a war on in America, pitting invasive ant against invasive ant in a fight to the finish. It's sort of like Alien vs. Predator, in a way, because whoever wins ... we lose. Argentine ants (the reigning champions) have wiped out native ant species in many of the environments they've invaded over the years, affecting the survival of other animals that used to feed on those ants. Worse, they have a fondness for certain agricultural pests, like aphids. In places with lots of Argentine ants, aphids do very well — and plants do worse.
But now the Argentines are facing a serious challenge in the form of Asian needle ants, another invasive species that — for reasons nobody really understands — have suddenly gone from minor player to major threat in the last decade. The big downside to Asian needle ants: They sting. They sting us. And, right now, it looks like they're winning.
John Roach tells the story at NBC News. But you can get a good idea of what this matchup looks like by checking out the work of insect photographer Alex Wild. That's his picture above, showing an Argentine ant on the left and an Asian needle ant on the right. Read the rest
Messing with ants for fun (and scientific profit)