From: Springer via EurekAlert!
Published April 22, 2015 09:37 AM

Ants avoid traffic jams

Rather than slowing down, ants speed up in response to a higher density of traffic on their trails, according to new research published in Springer's journal The Science of Nature - Naturwissenschaften. When the researchers increased the supply of food by leaving food next to the trail, ants accelerated their speed by 50 percent. This was despite more than double the density of traffic.

When food increases in supply, more forager ants are sent out to carry it back to the nest. With this increase in ant density, the number of encounters between outbound and incoming individuals increases. Researchers at the University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany suggest that the encounters provide an opportunity for ants to swap information and to change their behavior according to conditions.

The researchers also identified rules of ant etiquette. For example, workers returning to the colony more often moved to the left than to the right to avoid colliding with an oncoming ant. Rather than segregating strictly into lanes like human traffic, the ants used only a degree of segregation, with inbound ants more frequently using the left side of the trail.

The observations were made in the black-meadow ant, Formica pratensis, a species that lives mainly in open grassland and forages on aphid honeydew as its carbohydrate source. The colonies are situated near favored foraging sites where the ants protect and cultivate aphid populations. Repeated journeys are made more efficient by the use of well-worn trails that can persist for over a decade.

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Ants image via Shutterstock.

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