an amazing direction of the desert ants

Elles sont petites. Très petites. Et leur cerveau l’est évidemment encore plus. Pourtant, les fourmis ne sont pas si bêtes. Surtout lorsqu’il s’agit de se repérer dans l’espace. © aragami, Adobe Stock



“Bêtes de science” is like a collection of stories. The beautiful stories that live tell in all their freshness. But also in all its complexity. A parenthesis that marvels at the treasure of the world. For this new episode, let’s discover the amazing strategies set by insects we know well: ants.

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You can find ants all over the world. Except, maybe in Greenland and in Antarctic. Otherwise it’s almost enough to lower your head to see them running across the ground. Small beasts weighing no more than 10 milligrams. But which, taken together, weigh more than all of humanity!

10, 100 … to more than 12,000. Researchers are constantly identifying new ones cash. And it’s not worse. Because ants protect some trees from parasites, contribute to the spread of seeds, defend the fruit from attackbugs and cleanse nature by eating small dead animals.

Ants are also known for their cognitive abilities. They are social insects that communicate with each other and are able to solve complex problems. Theirs brain, and yet small, can record a staggering amount of information with great precision. This is especially the case of ants that live in desert Sahara. A cousin of ants la the fastest in the world, an ant that can run up to ten times faster – if everything is taken into account – than Usain Bolt! Just to survive warmth huge distribution in the region.

Our ant may not be that fast. But she has developed a stunning strategy of orientation in a landless landscape. How else to do it when all grains of sand look similar?

Follow the Sun and “count” your steps

What ants like to do to find their way back is generally tagging. A bit like Petit Pouceta, with its pebbles. In addition, ants use chemicals they excrete instead of gravel. Unfortunately, in the desert under the influence of heat everything evaporates very quickly. Including chemicals.

But more needs to be taken away from its bases by the Saharan ant. Anyone who interferes with their chemical labeling can also become their best ally. Because researchers have shown that it ultimately uses both position and intensity, and even polarization light from Sun as well as the amount of images observed to orient and value distance. Even better, when an ant finds something to eat, it can do it alone looking at the sun, estimate which will be the shortest way back to the anthill. To avoid barbecue …

Other ants, in Andalusia and Australia, have shown the ability to move and orient backwards. Very useful for pulling out a piece of cake on an anthill. They align with the Sun again. And if they need to re-calibrate on the right path, they can even move away from their prey for a moment and then find it again to continue in the right direction.

But let’s get back to our Saharan ants. According to researchers, they would also enjoy pedometer integrated. The hypothesis they confirmed by tying tiny millimeter-long twigs at the end of their legs. The ants then moved on longer legs than usual. And on the way back to the anthill, they covered 50% too much distance. So no, that doesn’t mean they’re ants know how to count. The precise mechanism is still a secret. Experience still confirms that Saharan ants have amazing abilities of memory and analysis. All in all, they’re not that stupid!

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