Friday, June 30, 2006


This is a really neat piece of research; the kind of work that is simple but ingenious, which gets published in top journals (Science in this case). Researchers in Germany and Switzerland found out that ants have a built in 'pedometer' that helps them to actually count the number of steps taken when they leave home, so that they can make it back safely. This phenomenon was investigated by the disarmingly simple technique of shortening the ants' legs in one case, and lengthening them using stiilts in another.

The objects of the study were Saharan desert ants, which forage for food over long distances in a zigzag manner, but then have the uncanny ability to come straight home once they have found it, taking the direct route rather than the original circuitous one.

"To investigate, scientists from the University of Ulm, Germany, and the University of Zurich, Switzerland, set some ants off on a foraging trip along a tunnel, but once they had reached the food their legs were manipulated to either make them longer by adding stilts, or shorter by partially amputating them.
The ants were then returned to the same spot to begin their homeward-bound journey. However, the researchers discovered the ants with longer legs overshot the nest entrance, while those with the shortened legs undershot it."

Edward Wilson would be pleased. Do read.


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