Ant Intelligence

Humans are fascinated by ants. One reason for this is how irritating they can be; an anthill near your home or a swarm of ants at your picnic can create a host of unpleasant problems, from inconveniences to real damage to your food and health. The other reason we’re so fascinated by ants is that they are social animals whose large group interactions may remind us of our own. Individuals working on artificial intelligence have used the concept of ant swarm intelligence in a lot of pioneering works, and algorithms inspired by ants are so prevalent in computer programming that a whole classification of them is known as “ant colony optimization algorithms”. How smart are ants, and what makes them so smart?

For years, we thought the biggest contributor to ant intelligence is the size and complexity of the swarm, a type of “hive mind” style intelligence that grows as more individuals contribute to the colony. In this conception, ants aren’t dissimilar to humans using the Internet; alone, there’s substantially less knowledge available than together, but collectively, large swaths of otherwise inaccessible knowledge come into arm’s reach. Following this conception of ants, the larger the colony is, the more intelligent the swarm should be. This reasoning would lead us to believe that Argentine ants are the most intelligent; these ants have a colony so large it can be described as a mega-colony spanning the world.

Ant swarms communicate through a wide variety of means, most commonly through pheromones. Pheromones are scents that are used primarily for identification; ants can detect if a member is from their own colony, their nest, another nest, or another colony altogether. They can also use pheromones to identify queens. Ants also use social hierarchy in order to determine value; when looking at a new source of food or a new location for a potential nest, more experienced workers seem to have more importance in evaluating the risks and rewards of the new location or food.

As it turns out, individual ants are actually far more intelligent than we originally gave them credit for. They have incredibly complex navigational abilities, that include cues derived from the position of the sun, the counting of their steps, slopes, odors and more. Where they differ from humans is that while we might put all of these things together (minus perhaps the odors) into a cognitive map, ants use all of these modules separately without creating a cohesive whole. Fascinating stuff!

Ants will continue to fascinate us so long as we continue to co-exist, and their vital role in our ecosystem means that it will be for a long time. That being said, it’s best to admire ants from afar. When they invade your home, it can lead to a lot of problems, and that’s where insect control Winnipeg can trust comes in. We employ a wide variety of different techniques in order to get rid of ant infestations in your home and to keep the ants away for a good, long time.

By Clint Rosevear on February 26, 2019
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