Ever wondered how ants move big chunks of food back to their nest if they can’t sense or see where the nest is? A group of scientists in Israel has found the answer. A large number of ants get together for heavy lifting, but they lack direction. Their vision and antennae are obstructed by the overpowered food itself. So, what’s the secret? A small group of “scouts.”

Scientists Shed Light On How Ants Transport Heavy Loads

Ants are ‘maximally sensitive’ to the scouts

Researchers led by Dr Ofer Feinerman of the Weizmann Institute of Science published findings of their study in the journal Nature Communications. They found that ants have a perfect balance between individuality and conformism. To conduct the study, researchers analyzed videos of ants moving oversized food items, including Cheerios. They studied a very common species called the longhorn crazy ant.

While most of the ants are busy moving the food item, a small group of wanderer ants or “scouts” figure out the direction to the nest. Then one of the scouts would grab the food and pull strongly in the right direction. Other members in the group are tuned to be “maximally sensitive” to the scout ants. They can tell this stronger force is the one they must conform to. Thus, all of them apply force in the same direction.

The only communication between ants is…

However, this informed ant soon loses its sense of direction as its vision is obstructed by the food. Now a new scout steps in to provide the necessary guidance, and the process continues until they reach the nest. Dr Feinerman said the only communication in this system is the force that ants feel through the object.

Researchers said the system of ants worked best for medium-sized objects of about 1cm. But they also tested by giving ants items far bigger than what they would normally move. When scientists presented them with 8cm and 16cm silicon discs, all of them pushed in the same direction. The discs moved in smooth, straight lines. The group needed many more ants to move the bigger objects. Therefore, the force each ant feels through the object gets stronger. And all the ants try to act as conformists.