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Scientists discover that ants use their memory to avoid pitfalls the second time

Ants can’t be fooled: Scientists discover that the insects use their memory to help them fall and avoid predators the second time

  • Ants usually find their way back to their nests by following pheromone traces
  • Researchers tested how the insects would react if a well was dug in the path
  • They found that the ants fell the first time – but instead avoided the fall

Ants can learn to avoid danger after just one risky experience.

The social insects are known as brilliant navigators that use pheromone spores to help them find their way back to their nest.

However, one study suggests that ants also use their visual memories to help avoid previously seen pitfalls such as predators and traps by changing their route.

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Ants are so smart that they learn to avoid danger after just one risky experience, a study found

Ants are so smart that they learn to avoid danger after just one risky experience, a study found

The study was conducted by animal behavioral experts Antoine Wystrach from the University of Toulouse in France and colleagues.

The researchers said ants can link visual cues to negative experiences and remember potentially dangerous routes.

In their experiment, the team ‘captured’ desert ants by placing a smooth-walled trap in the insect’s path as they approach their nest.

From this trap, a bridge hidden by twigs was the only exit from the ants.

Two ant species were tested: Melophorus bagoti from Australia and Cataglyphis fortis from the Sahara.

The first time individual ants encountered the trap, they all rushed – at about 2 miles per hour (nearly one meter per second) – to the nest and fell into the hole.

On the second attempt, however, the ants changed their behavior to avoid the pit.

As they approached the trap, some ants stopped to scan their surroundings before making a detour around the well and reaching the nest safely.

Ants are known as brilliant navigators that use pheromone traces to help them find their way back to their nests. However, a study suggests that ants also use their visual memories to help avoid previously encountered pitfalls such as predators and traps by changing their route

Ants are known as brilliant navigators that use pheromone traces to help them find their way back to their nests. However, a study suggests that ants also use their visual memories to help avoid previously encountered pitfalls such as predators and traps by changing their route

Ants are known as brilliant navigators that use pheromone traces to help them find their way back to their nests. However, a study suggests that ants also use their visual memories to help avoid previously encountered pitfalls such as predators and traps by changing their route

In their experiment, the team 'captured' desert ants by placing a smooth-walled trap in the insect's path as they approach their nest. The first time individual ants encountered the trap, they all rushed - at about 2 miles per hour (nearly one meter per second) - to the nest and fell into the hole. On the second attempt, however, the ants changed their behavior to avoid the pit

In their experiment, the team 'captured' desert ants by placing a smooth-walled trap in the insect's path as they approach their nest. The first time individual ants encountered the trap, they all rushed - at about 2 miles per hour (nearly one meter per second) - to the nest and fell into the hole. On the second attempt, however, the ants changed their behavior to avoid the pit

In their experiment, the team ‘captured’ desert ants by placing a smooth-walled trap in the insect’s path as they approach their nest. The first time individual ants encountered the trap, they all rushed – at about 2 miles per hour (nearly one meter per second) – to the nest and fell into the hole. On the second attempt, however, the ants changed their behavior to avoid the pit

The researchers showed that the visual memories of the ants that went back a few seconds before falling into the pit were retrospectively associated with the fall, allowing them to avoid the fall the second time.

“Our goal now is to implement these learning mechanisms to better understand the complexity of insect nervous systems,” said Dr. Antoine Wystrach.

The full findings of the study are published in the journal Current biology.

HOW DO ANTS USE SIZES TO BUILD ‘LIVE BRIDGES’?

Different types of ants build ‘living bridges’ made from their own bodies to bridge small holes.

Researchers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology showed in 2015 that up to 20 percent of a colony can be trapped in bridges at any time on a route.

This is when an individual ant can execute a ‘bridging’ algorithm.

An ant can see how often it has been stamped by previous ants and can thus assess the width of the bridge.

When this reaches a certain number, an ant – judging that too many members of the colony can now occupy bridges – can rejoin the march.

Different types of ants build 'living bridges' made from their bodies to bridge small holes

Different types of ants build 'living bridges' made from their bodies to bridge small holes

Different types of ants build ‘living bridges’ made from their bodies to bridge small holes

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