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How ant colonies make decisions as a network of neurons

Suppose the temperature in the anthill increases. It gets very hot under the feet of the ants. But they persisted. Then suddenly: the entire colony evacuated. How do they decide?

Research shows that ants’ response to a similar stimulus is comparable to how a network of neurons – like our brains – works. The input of sensory information, along with the ensemble structure, ensures that there is an output. In this case: eviction.

To find out, the scientists studied a colony while controlling the temperature of the nest and monitoring all the ants individually. They have seen that a small colony has enough at 34 degrees, but if the colony is larger, it stays longer. For example, a colony of 200 ants survived up to 36 degrees.

It appears that temperature is not the only factor. The size of the group – and thus the difficulty of evacuating – also plays an important role. But how does an ant know how much he or she is in a colony?

The researchers speculate that it must have something to do with the materials ants use to communicate. In follow-up research, they want to influence these materials as well as temperature to see what effect this has on colony decisions.

Read more: Ant colonies act like neural networks when making decisions.

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