JUN 13, 2017 11:28 AM PDT

Do ants have traffic jams?


If you've ever stopped to ponder a line of ants on their commute, you might wonder how they stay so orderly. The efficiency of an ant line is so incredible that in fact some scientists are studying the dynamics behind ants' civilized transport system in order to gain tips on how we humans may better organize our traffic-filled roads.

One thing that scientists have learned is that ants use a three-lane system, with ants heading inbound to the colony using the middle lane and ants heading outbound using the outer lanes. This works because the ants moving toward the colony usually are carrying back food or organic material and are therefore less maneuverable than the ants heading out for work. So when two ants come head to head, the one without the food gives way to the other, moving to the side and creating its own outside lane. This is where psychology comes into the matter. Ant culture is quite clearly more collective than human culture, which means that when humans stuck in a traffic jam are worried about the meeting they're going to miss or being late to meet their mother-in-law, ants are working for the good of the colony and if that means adjusting to the pace of another ant carrying an extra heavy leaf, then they adjust. Do you think humans are able to do that?
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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