Ants ‘Use Math’ to Find Fastest Route
Just as light does, ants traveling through different materials follow the fastest path, not the shortest one.
A recent study found that when fire ants (Wasmannia auropunctata) crossed different surfaces, the insects chose the route that would minimize their total walking time, rather than the distance traveled. The ants’ behavior offers a window into how groups of social insects self-organize, the scientists say.
In optics, a ray of light traveling between two points takes the path that requires the least amount of time, even if it’s not the shortest distance — which is known as “Fermat’s principle of least time.” For example, imagine a lifeguard rushing to save someone in the ocean some distance down the beach. The quickest way for her to get to the victim would be to run along the beach first, in order to minimize the time she would have to spend swimming, which usually takes longer than running…
En route to their roach banquet, the ants did not follow the most direct travel path, the study found. Rather, they followed an angled path, traveling over more of the smoother material in order to reach the food morsels in the shortest amount of time. The findings demonstrate that Fermat’s principle of light travel also applies to living creatures, the researchers conclude.