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Planet Earth

Raft-forming ants learn to "man" specific positions in the raft.

Seriously, Science?By Seriously ScienceApril 20, 2016 3:00 PM

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During times of flood, certain species of ants work together to build rafts out of... themselves! Not only that, previous work has also shown that some ants use highly buoyant eggs and larvae at the base of the raft to help keep the entire contraption afloat. Here, scientists from UC Riverside tracked individual ants during multiple rounds of raft building and discovered that individual ants return to their same position on Anty McAntface during sequential floods, much like members of a ship's crew manning their stations. As the short clip below produced by UC Riverside says: "All Ants on Deck!"

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDWMWLqm4zI[/embed]

Ant workers exhibit specialization and memory during raft formation.

"By working together, social insects achieve tasks that are beyond the reach of single individuals. A striking example of collective behaviour is self-assembly, a process in which individuals link their bodies together to form structures such as chains, ladders, walls or rafts. To get insight into how individual behavioural variation affects the formation of self-assemblages, we investigated the presence of task specialization and the role of past experience in the construction of ant rafts. We subjected groups of Formica selysi workers to two consecutive floods and monitored the position of individuals in rafts. Workers showed specialization in their positions when rafting, with the same individuals consistently occupying the top, middle, base or side position in the raft. The presence of brood modified workers' position and raft shape. Surprisingly, workers' experience in the first rafting trial with brood influenced their behaviour and raft shape in the subsequent trial without brood. Overall, this study sheds light on the importance of workers' specialization and memory in the formation of self-assemblages." Related content: NCBI ROFL: Ants in your pants? NCBI ROFL: Slippery stalk surfaces send insects sliding into sink of slaughter! NCBI ROFL: Yes, dung beetles do have favorite flavors of poop.

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