Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Tracking Whole Colonies Shows Ants Make Career Moves

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the executive-in-charge-of-carrying-pieces-of-leaves dept.

Science 47

ananyo writes "Researchers have tagged every single worker in entire colonies and used a computer to track them, accumulating what they say is the largest-ever data set on ant interactions. 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 insects, they found, tend to graduate from one group to another as they age. By creating heat maps to represent the workers’ positions, Mersch's team showed that nurses and foragers stick to their own company and seldom mix, even if the colony’s entrance and brood chamber are close together (abstract). Cleaners are more widely dispersed, patrolling the whole colony and interacting with both of the other groups. 'The ants can probably be in any place within their enclosures in less than a minute,' says Mersch, 'but even in these simple spaces, they organize into these spatial groups.'"

cancel ×

47 comments

Specializations (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43493775)

Specializations. Interesting. Does that imply that ants can learn? One would think they were just a bundle of instinct. Maybe not.

Re:Specializations (1)

somersault (912633) | about a year ago | (#43494141)

You've obviously never watched Antz [imdb.co.uk]

Re:Specializations (5, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#43494145)

Specializations. Interesting. Does that imply that ants can learn?

Specialization does not necessarily mean learning. They could just switch between different sets of instincts. Whether they learn seems like a straightforward hypothesis to test: if it is true, then more experienced foragers should gather more food.

I thought it was already well known that ants switch tasks as they age. I remember reading years ago that the oldest ants are the foragers because they were the most likely to die from predation or exposure, and that was at a lower cost to the colony since they were approaching the end of their expected lifetime anyway.

Re:Specializations (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | about a year ago | (#43495141)

The article didn't address who does the security when I stomp on the mound......or when another mound invades.

Re:Specializations (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43495545)

Learning has been well documented in arthropods.

Habituation, conditioning, and trial+error learning are all to be expected.

What hasn't been documented to my knowledge is any insight learning.

Re:Specializations (1)

gtbritishskull (1435843) | about a year ago | (#43495765)

Honeybees also switch tasks as they age, similar to ants. The bees that go outside the hive tend to be the oldest.

Re:Specializations (3, Informative)

regular_guy (1979018) | about a year ago | (#43496079)

Not always the case. A study had shown that foragers can switch back to nurses due to switching gene sets (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22273-worker-bees-reboot-brain-genes-to-suit-the-task.html) . So while the nursing bees often keep the role for 2-3 weeks, there is a possibility of seeing older nursing bees due to this switch-back in roles.

Re:Specializations (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43494733)

Specializations. Interesting. Does that imply that ants can learn? One would think they were just a bundle of instinct. Maybe not.

It's like emergent behavior in a particles-and-fields system. Whether that qualifies as learning is a philosophical question I'm unable to answer.

Re:Specializations (3, Interesting)

TFAFalcon (1839122) | about a year ago | (#43494861)

Just the opposite. The ants often switch jobs when they age and do not specialize in a single job.

And if you think about it, it must be a pretty good strategy for the hive. Send the old ants on the dangerous jobs - even if they die you haven't lost a worker with a long and productive life in front of them.

Re:Specializations (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year ago | (#43495641)

They definitely can learn [wikipedia.org] .

Snippy jokes about H1B ants coming (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43493859)

3... 2... 1...

Re:Snippy jokes about H1B ants coming (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43494669)

It would seem that ants are more trainable then liberal arts graduates.

Introducing Dice for Ants (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43493871)

Tired of your dead-end role in the colony? Frustrated that your boss doesn't respect your contribution to the brood? Dice for Ants has over 16 billion job openings for drones just like you. Make the jump today to get the skills to be your own queen. Network with other ambitious insects like yourself. Get advice from others who have made the leap from cleaner to forager.

Distance vs life span (5, Interesting)

pr0nbot (313417) | about a year ago | (#43493901)

Apparently (google tells me) ants live about 90 days. Let's say that humans live about 90 years. In that case, saying "The ants can probably be in any place within their enclosures in less than a minute..." equates to "The humans can probably be in any place within their enclosures in roughly 6 hours, but even in these simple spaces, they organize into these spatial groups."

Re:Distance vs life span (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43494069)

Maybe they need stronger spacial memory to keep track of who has been feed and who needs feeding. Being a cleaner would seem to require less effort, just pick up trash wherever you see it and dump it in one of the trash dumps. A forager would seem to require even less effort; go out and look for stuff and don't come back until you find something worth taking back, it's a bonus if you come back alive.

Re:Distance vs life span (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43494357)

Wouldn't a comparrison based on respective legs sizes be more relevant...

Re:Distance vs life span (2)

a_big_favor (2550262) | about a year ago | (#43494643)

Distance is more interesting than a time scaling of a life or travel time. I would be more interested in how big the ants are in comparison to the distance or a population density or visual distance. And this is basically a 2D space, it would be more interesting if given more room.

Re:Distance vs life span (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43496171)

The outside world may be basically a 2D space, but the colony itsself is not. Ant colonies are a maze of twisty passages.

Re:Distance vs life span (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43497429)

You are in a maze of twisty passages.
N
You are in a haze of twisty cabbages.
S
You are in a blaze of thirsty babbages. ...
(Bonus if you recognize this!)

Re:Distance vs life span (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43498131)

xyzzy

You have moved an unknown distance within the colony. However, you are still an ant.

Re:Distance vs life span (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | about a year ago | (#43500465)

all alike?

Re:Distance vs life span (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43501751)

Not to an ant.

Fleeing the queen? Makes sense... (4, Funny)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about a year ago | (#43493919)

>> workers move between jobs as they get older — nurses are generally younger than cleaners, which are younger than foragers.

So...the workers generally try to further and further away from the queen as they get older? I'll bet there's a Red-Green bit we could reference here.

Yawn (4, Funny)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | about a year ago | (#43493999)

Wake me up when ants start building Mutalisks...

Logan's run (2)

bjb_admin (1204494) | about a year ago | (#43494247)

The old ants know they either have to go to Carousel or leave the colony!

Re:Logan's run (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#43497279)

The old ants know they either have to go to Carousel or leave the colony!

[spoiler]all except one ant, who ruins it for the rest of them....[/spoiler]

I'll bet the ant employers don't whine. . . (2)

smooth wombat (796938) | about a year ago | (#43494271)

about applicants not having experience. This is the way it should be done: start at the bottom, learn what you need, then move up in the world using your gained experience.

Now compare that to human employers where you're supposed to magically know everything about how an employer works despite never having worked for them.

Further, unlike humans, the ants don't care about how old the ant is. All they care about is if you can do the job.

Re:I'll bet the ant employers don't whine. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43494711)

Actually there has been research showing that older ants move to foraging as it's the riskiest job and they're the least valuable to the colony.

Comparing humans to these super-organisms like eusocial ant and bee colonies where individuals commonly choose to sacrifice themselves for the greater good isn't exactly an equal comparison.

Re:I'll bet the ant employers don't whine. . . (3, Funny)

Sduic (805226) | about a year ago | (#43495095)

Unfortunately, ant colonies are rife with nepotism. Also, instead of centralising their information, they appear to work entirely upon hearsay and rumour. Basically, if you do find yourself a position in an ant colony, don't expect to enjoy it.

Re:I'll bet the ant employers don't whine. . . (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#43497321)

Basically, if you do find yourself a position in an ant colony, don't expect to enjoy it.

No matter which position you find, you can expect it to be somewhat painful, unless you're an anteater.

Re:I'll bet the ant employers don't whine. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43495689)

You old people rant and rant about how unjust it is that employers favor young workers.

You were young once. And when you were young, you touted the benefits of youth. You insisted that actual merit was more important than experience, that your youth means you have better learning aptitude, mastery of modern technologies that the oldies could never understand, and enough energy and enthusiasm to run circles around them. You said all this to land the job.

Now that the next generation says the exact same things you used to say, suddenly it is an egregious travesty.

Step aside old-timer, we need jobs too.

(note, this argumentation tactic works just as well in reverse. Every young worker will be old someday, and will change his tune and refute everything he said to get the job when he was young, insisting that his learning aptitude is as good or better as it ever was, and that his experience means he won't make the costly and devastating mistakes that the young hotheads will invariably make. The only non-agists are the ones right in the middle, who have the worst of both worlds.).

Re:I'll bet the ant employers don't whine. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43496043)

Yes. Young people should be forward looking and touting the value of the experience of older people so that they can reap those benefits when they get more experience.

Re:I'll bet the ant employers don't whine. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43498055)

YOLO! u need no xperiense when u have SWAG!

Bees and ants are distantly related... (1)

Mr Foobar (11230) | about a year ago | (#43494411)

and from the Wiki bee article, seem to live rather similar lives:

"For the first 10 days of their lives, the female worker bees clean the hive and feed the larvae. After this, they begin building comb cells. On days 16 through 20, a worker receives nectar and pollen from older workers and stores it. After the 20th day, a worker leaves the hive and spends the remainder of its life as a forager."

Most of the other related general in the bee/ant world also lead similar lives. So I wonder what the researchers were expecting.

Re:Bees and ants are distantly related... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43495169)

Not at all suprised, having been (and hope to be again) a beekeeper. But science is about checking the facts, you keep checking facts till you find a case that does not fit. So while this is not "News" it is another case and if ever we find a counter case that will in a sense not be "News" but eveyone will act like it is.

Re:Bees and ants are distantly related... (4, Interesting)

el jocko del oeste (2450190) | about a year ago | (#43495211)

I haven't read the actual paper yet, but we can draw a few tidbits from the news article and the abstract...

It's not that the results were unexpected or overturn long held theories about ant behavior. But the work produced a couple of interesting and valuable outcomes. First, they demonstrated that they could effectively tag and track ants in an experimental setting. That by itself is notable--it opens up a lot of interesting research opportunities. Second, they analyzed the tracking data to quantify the spatial and temporal interactions of the ants, and in particular, between functional groups of ants. They were able to determine that there were significant cleaner-nurse and cleaner-forager interactions but limited nurse-forager interactions. Not just in a general kind of way, but with real measurements.

the big question this research (1)

nimbius (983462) | about a year ago | (#43494671)

fails to address is will the ants have to come in saturday to finish up the TPS reports or not?

Is it really promotion? (2)

santax (1541065) | about a year ago | (#43494893)

Or are the young ones just getting extra protection because they are more valuable for the colony at that point? When they get older they might become less valuable for the tasks that involve nursing and get demoted to cleaning. Even later, they get to go outside! How nice! From the safety from the center of the colony to the front in afghanistan doesn't sound like a promotion to me. I am not saying they are wrong, I am saying this is so interesting that it deserves a really good extended study to find the real reason for this behavior.

Re:Is it really promotion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43498957)

From the safety from the center of the colony to the front in afghanistan doesn't sound like a promotion to me.

The human equivalent would be if junior stayed home and worked the farm while grandpa went off to war.

One colony =/= every colony (2)

locopuyo (1433631) | about a year ago | (#43495271)

We should hold off judgment until we have analyzed more colonies. This could be the North Korea of ant colonies and the others could have more affluent and free societies.

This matches my observations (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year ago | (#43495427)

Around here, the ants regularly engage in career moves that confuse onlookers. Some fight and claw their way up to the front of the log, only to find that not only is it merely a twig, but alas, they aren't really driving any of it at all.

Then they set their sights on driving the bigger log.

Rinse and repeat, until squashed, poisoned, or lost in the Diaspora.

Its been 12 years anyway.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43496835)

I think it's time to reinstall SimAnt.

Soldiers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43497533)

I don't see any mention of soldier ants, which any colony will have. Could nurses grow into soldiers, for example, or are soldiers born into the role?

Older ants usually fight. (1)

antdude (79039) | about a year ago | (#43499461)

Younger ants don't. It's the opposite of humans. :/

Do they ever find mentally deranged ants? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43507189)

You figure every now and then there should be a mentally deranged ant that tries to terrorize/sabotage the colony. I'd like to hear about this.

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...