MAY 15, 2016 7:16 PM PDT

The colonies beneath our feet: ants


10,000 species. Sterile Female workers. Can lift 50 times their own weight. Never sleep. Individuals have two stomachs - one for itself and one for sharing with the others in the colony. Queens lay all the eggs for a colony and live 15-20 years; workers live only 1 year. Black ants and woods ants squirt a spray of formic acid instead of stinging, birds sometimes put these ant species in their wings to get rid of parasites.

These ant facts are enough to astound anyone. However, perhaps the most interesting of all is that despite their highly organized social behavior and caste system of delegation, ant colonies lack a central control. In other words, there is no one in charge.

Evolved from stinging wasps like yellow jackets and hornet 130 million years ago to become social, some scientists call ants a super organism because of the extreme connectedness that a colony's individuals possess. With individuals specialized for particular jobs in the same way our tissues are specialized in our bodies, and (in most species) individuals forgoing their own fertility for the sake of the colony, ants are uniquely curious creatures.

Deborah Gordon is particularly interested in determining the structure of task allocation that ant colonies establish. She calls task allocation the mysterious art of how they know how to adjust the numbers for specific tasks when conditions change. Communicating mainly by smell, as ants have very poor vision that only allow them to distinguish between light and dark, ants have figured out how to function to the maximum efficiency. For a more in depth look at the social behavior of ants, watch Gordon's TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/deborah_gordon_digs_ants?language=en#t-541499.
About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
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.
You May Also Like
MAR 03, 2021
Plants & Animals
Can Arctic Bearded Seals Compete with Human Noise?
MAR 03, 2021
Can Arctic Bearded Seals Compete with Human Noise?
Vocal communication is a primary key to survival for many species, including the Arctic Ocean's bearded seals. Accor ...
MAR 09, 2021
Plants & Animals
Sea Slug Shows Extreme Case of Regeneration
MAR 09, 2021
Sea Slug Shows Extreme Case of Regeneration
Some of the most interesting—and possibly strangest—scientific discoveries happen by accident. According to ...
APR 09, 2021
Plants & Animals
Speedbumps Reduce Endangered Red Colobus Deaths
APR 09, 2021
Speedbumps Reduce Endangered Red Colobus Deaths
The endangered Zanzibar red colobus is a rare primate that lives only in the Zanzibar archipelago. New research from Ban ...
MAY 29, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Climate Models Overestimate Role of Greenhouse Gases in Global Warming, Says New Study
MAY 29, 2021
Climate Models Overestimate Role of Greenhouse Gases in Global Warming, Says New Study
Researchers have that there was four times more soot in the pre-industrial Southern Hemisphere's atmosphere than pre ...
JUN 04, 2021
Plants & Animals
What Elephant Trunks Teach Science about Suction
JUN 04, 2021
What Elephant Trunks Teach Science about Suction
How an elephant picks up a tortilla chip could inspire next-generation suction technology.
JUN 24, 2021
Space & Astronomy
European Space Agency to Launch Satellite Made from Plywood
JUN 24, 2021
European Space Agency to Launch Satellite Made from Plywood
Modern spacecraft are typically made out of carbon fiber composites. Now, however, the European Space Agency has announc ...
Loading Comments...