Watch Ants Use Crazy Living Bridge To Cross Gap
These ants bring teamwork to a whole new level.
A video shows a species of army ants, Eciton hamatum, building a living bridge between two pieces of wood: Dozens of ants span the centimeters-long gap, swaying gently as their fellow colony members swarm across their bodies to reach the other side.
The structures are particularly stunning considering the ants have no leader directing them - rather, they seem to share collective knowledge and decide as a group what to do.
The video was part of a study conducted by Princeton University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, whose findings revealed surprising complexity in how the tiny insects think.
Researchers found that the ants would start the bridge at a small angle - say, the closest point between two branches - and slowly move it out farther until the bridge stretched across a wider gap.
Not only could the ants form complex structures this way, but the bridge would stop growing when the ants decided it could hold the oncoming traffic, or if the bridge was taking too many ants away from foraging duties - knowledge that any individual ant likely wouldn't have.
The findings raise the much bigger picture of how exactly the colony was able to communicate - and hint at as-yet unknown methods of collective communication within the colony.
"These ants are performing a collective computation," Matthew Lutz, a Princeton graduate student and co-author of the paper, said on Princeton's website. "There's no single ant overseeing the decision, they're making that calculation as a colony ... Thinking about this cost-benefit framework might be a new insight that can be applied to other animal structures that people haven't thought of before."
The findings could have implications in fields such as robotics, the researchers said. But even without any future implications, the video stands as a pretty cool reminder of just how complex even the tiniest creatures are.