Army ant bridge collapses and recovers

1 minute

How to maintain infrastructure – the stunning collective intelligence of ant engineers

Army ants have tiny brains and are nearly blind, yet they routinely perform extraordinary feats of engineering, building bridges with their bodies to span gaps that they need to cross. In this video from the Swarm Lab of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, recorded in the field in a tropical forest in Panama, researchers pulled apart one of these bridges to study how army ants recover from such a rupture. One conclusion is that, although individual ants are incapable of understanding the movement of their colony as a whole, they have evolved a behavioural code that tells them to stop in their tracks if another ant is walking on top of them, a strategy that allows them to rebuild quickly. There are, however, some more complex army ant-bridge manoeuvres that researchers are still attempting to explain, such as when ants will construct a shortcut bridge rather than taking a longer route. Capturing this phenomenon close-up in a lab, this short video observes the surprising capabilities of collective intelligence to solve complex logistical problems.

Video by Helen McCreery, Simon Garnier, Radhika Nagpal, Mike Rubenstein, Melinda Malley, NJIT, Harvard University

Editor: Adam D’Arpino

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