The central intelligence of ants – the way ant colonies organize themselves without a leader and get things done – continues to amaze scientists and science writers alike. Back in 2003, Deborah Gordon, a Stanford biologist, gave a whole TED Talk called “How Do Ants Know What to Do?,” which sheds light on how ants can form stunningly complex, leaderless systems. Then, several years later, RadioLab continued to mull over Gordon’s fascinating research in one of its very first episodes.
Now we get this great bit of video. It comes to us via researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and it shows how ants, when placed in water, can form a completely watertight raft in under two minutes. “They’ll gather up all the eggs in the colony and will make their way up through the underground network of tunnels, and when the flood waters rise above the ground, they’ll link up together in these massive rafts,” says Nathan J. Mlot, an engineering student involved in the project. Amazingly, even the ants at the bottom of the raft never get submerged. They all survive, which raises the question: Can this research lead to new floatation devices for the rest of us to use?