Thursday, June 2, 2016

Observation: Ants, Networks and Communication

By Mary Van Dyke

Interested in the everyday, networks and communication? 

This afternoon, I take about 100 3rd Grade students out to learn about soil erosion in the schoolyard. We come across small holes and miniature-hills on the playing field. The kids scuff the dust. Thinking? About the heat, soccer? Bees? Ants?
Studying schoolyard erosion and Red Maple roots
At supper this evening, I watch tiny ants carry a part of a skipper butterfly's wing 20 feet or so across the concrete patio. First one ant on its own, then another tiny ant join in. The first ant gives up at a big 1/4 inch high twig. A third ant arrives and takes over, and manages to flip the wing over the twig, and then haul the butterfly wing another 10 feet or so across the concrete. 
Ant with Skipper Wing

Meanwhile, we feed the ant colony some tiny slices of watermelon, fairly close to their walking lines. In a few minutes first 1, then 2 or 3 then, 5 or 6 and soon a dozen or so ants gather around the tiny slices of melon. 
Ants eating Watermelon
I need to read again EO Wilson and listen to Deborah Gordon on how ants communicate and whether they plan their trips? Deborah Gordon has devoted a lifetime to studying ant colonies, their networks and communication.  And I recollect a radioshow I heard a few years ago on AI, simple operations and swarm networks.

It is interesting to watch the ants for half an hour or so on the patio - and I have yet to discover the nest or where they were going. As I clear away supper, I plan to watch the ants again tomorrow.

The next day, I find the ant's nest. It's a large colony in crack in the pavement and their main nest is under a flower pot. There is another trophy wing there, but not the skipper wing, and I see a dead fly.  I am now intrigued to observe these ants over the summer!
Ant Paper Cutout Banner by Mary Van Dyke

EO Wilson

Deborah Gordon - interest in ants, networks, communication and AI

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