With some ants stuffing the potholes with their bodies, the Tropical Army Ant provides good road conditions. Photos: Scott Powell, University of Bristol
Read The Tropical Army ant makes good on-the-road raids in its own way: some of the animals use their bodies to plug potholes on the trail and thus accelerate ant traffic, British scientists have observed. Due to the more level surface the other workers can transport the prey faster to the nest. The ants have their own road maintenance, so to speak, the researchers report. The tropical army ant (Eciton burchelli), which belongs to the migratory ants, lives in the forests of Central and South America. In their raids, up to 200, 000 ants transport the prey back to the nest on several paths. The ant trails are covered with fallen potholes and branches on the forest floor, so to speak, with potholes and other bumps.

The scientists now studied several ant colonies living in Panama. Three colonies tracked and filmed them on their natural roads, and in two other colonies they inserted several planks in the main paths into which holes of different sizes were drilled.

When an unloaded ant reaches a hole, it first examines the size of the gap and crawls around the edge, the researchers observed. To find out if it fits in the hole, the ant spreads its legs over the hole, rocking back and forth and finally hanging motionless in the cavity. For larger holes, several ants cooperate with each other to fill them. The other prey-laden ants crawl over the living stoppers. "Once the traffic has passed, the ants crawl out of the pothole and follow their companions back into the nest, " Powell explains.

Due to this special behavior, the ants can accelerate the transport of prey and thus also significantly improve the daily food supply for the entire colony. The study shows how an extremely specialized minority can increase the majority's performance and help the entire group, the researchers say. display

Scott Powell & Nigel Franks (University of Bristol): Animal Behavior, Online Advance Release, DOI: 10.1016 / j.anbehav.2006.11.005 ddp / science.de? Claudia Hilbert

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