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After termites ants are hands down the most impressive engineers, even when they build structures out of their own bodies. When army ants encounter a threat, a plan for escape becomes necessary. In some cases, ants will form a bridge in between two objects in order to allow the rest of the colony, most importantly the queen, to pass over. Like most insects, ants can be considered relatively dumb when considering all animals on the planet. After all, an ant brain is only the size of a grain of sand. Perhaps it would not be fair to refer to ants as “dumb” as they are capable of astounding acts, provided that the colony is working together. One of the most impressive aspects of ant colonies is the spontaneous and collective efforts that they put into their colony’s survival. Ants do not need a general to give orders. In fact there are no orders of rank in an ant colony, with the exception of the queen perhaps. It goes without saying that collective ant behavior has astounded many researchers. One researcher became fascinated with army ants after seeing them build a bridge from one structure to another. The bridge only spanned a foot or so in length, but it worked to save the lives of many ants. This particular researcher has broken down the process of bridge building among ants.

 

The start of a bridge begins with one or a few ants. When ants are rapidly crawling away from a threat, they will stop upon encountering a cliff. The second group of ants will arrive at the ledge and climb onto the first ant’s backs, but they will be slightly nudged forward. Once the third group arrives they climb onto the backs of the second group, and so on. Eventually the ants build a bridge that is long enough to allow for crossing areas that are otherwise impossible to traverse. All of the leftover ants then walk over the bridge. For some reason the ants just know to stay in place upon arriving at the ledge, and all subsequent ants to arrive at the ledge stop crawling once they are in position over the previous ants. Researchers believe that this behavior suggests a form of collective unconscious decision making in ants.

 

Do you believe that ants can only build bridges so far before they become physically unable to span long gaps?

 

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