Can Ants Count? Do They Have Built-In Pedometers? Animated Video Explains

Saha­ran desert ants are known to wan­der great dis­tances in search of food. Twist­ing and turn­ing on their way, the ants man­age to return to their nests along sur­pris­ing­ly direct paths. They sense direc­tion using light from the sky, but how do they judge dis­tance? By count­ing steps, appar­ent­ly.

As Nation­al Pub­lic Radio sci­ence cor­re­spon­dent Robert Krul­wich explains in this engag­ing lit­tle car­toon, a group of Ger­man and Swiss sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that by manip­u­lat­ing the stride of the ants halfway through their trip–by either length­en­ing or short­en­ing their legs–the ants would invari­ably over­shoot or under­shoot their return des­ti­na­tion. As Prince­ton biol­o­gist James Gould told NPR, “These ani­mals are fooled exact­ly the way you’d expect if they were count­ing steps.”

The exper­i­men­tal results were orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 2006. You can lis­ten to Krul­wich’s radio report on the research here.

via Phi­los­o­phy Mon­key

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ant Archae­ol­o­gy

Fire Ants Cre­ate Life Raft in 100 Sec­onds Flat

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