Army ants can build bridges out of… themselves! Ant colonies are famously organized in order to manage some incredible tasks and work together for the survival of the collective but now researchers from Princeton University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology have found that army ants are also able to form living bridges out of their own bodies in order to overcome obstacles and cover distances and that the structures which they use are more sophisticated than previously thought.
The research focused on experiments where army ants had to create architectural structures using the linked bodies of members of the colony in order to cover gaps and distances that would have otherwise been impossible to cross. Scientists studying the ants discovered that the precision that the ants have when they construct these living bridges is astounding as the placement of the individuals is very well calculated and leaves no room for error.
The ants seem to have a pre-established formula which they rely on when forming the bridge and they appear to work as a collective for the common good, with no single ant overseeing the construction of the bridge. But in acting as a single unit, every member involved in the process is immediately aware of the circumstances surrounding it.
According to the researchers conducting the study the ants do not know how many members of the colony are participating in creating the structure, they only know that other ants are walking over their bodies. Scientists have also found that the ants are able to calculate the costs and the benefits that will be achieved by creating a bridge in a particular place in real time.
The team also observed that the colony moves at an incredibly fast pace, as it can take the ants only seconds to assemble or disassemble the bridge. These bridges also adapt to the surrounding environments in which they are built and the ants sometimes chose to move the bridges in order to better suit their needs, which surprised the scientists.
After starting the construction and establishing a connection between two points, the ants move the bridges away from their initial building site. It has also been found that after the ants lengthen the bridge enough to ensure an easy access to it, the expansion stops and the remaining ants carry resources across it, while the ants that form the bridge remain still in order to facilitate the carrying process.
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