Why ants don’t get into traffic jams
Rush hour usually brings a stop-and-go nightmare as we inch our way home from the office. But for ants, more traffic doesn’t always lead to a slow crawl. New research published in The Science of Nature has found that some ants actually travel faster when more of them take to the roads. To uncover this odd rule, ecologists set up a traffic camera on a small stretch of trail built by black-backed meadow ants (Formica pratensis, pictured). The researchers placed some tuna out of frame, farther up the trail, to goad the ants out of their hill. Then, they used software to track the insects in the video. The team counted the ants and calculated the speed of about 500 individuals. Surprisingly, they found that the bugs hit the gas instead of the brakes as it got more crowded, upping their speed by about 25% as their density doubled. The ants even collided more often while maintaining their speedy synchronized commute. That may be evidence that collisions serve an important role, the new study reports, allowing incoming foragers to give tips about a new site. The researchers write that studying the traffic patterns of ants might help alleviate congestion on our own roads, assuming we can avoid the fender-benders.