The Loh Down On Science

Ant Crowd Control

British ants fart!  But why?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science. 

Researchers from the University of Sussex collected ant colonies to study in lab. They provided paths to bowls of syrup. They then monitored traffic flow as the ants harvested the goodies. 

They saw several peculiar things.  To begin with, if ants find food somewhere?  They pass gas all the way home.  It’s easy to spot--they literally pause and lower their rears, depositing a chemical scent trail.  

The trail leads nestmates to the feast. But hurry! The smell evaporates quickly. That’s why each new ant poots again, ensuring that most others find their way. Problem now becomes that traffic can become thick.

But here again, good news. The busier a road got, the less ants broke wind!  In fact, once a path was packed? Most stopped! Less scent is less luring. This eases congestion and encourages alternative routes. And this makes harvesting more efficient, boosting colony survival. 

And ensuring, for next generations to come,  happy trails.  If rather stinky ones.

 

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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