Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Run Ants, Run!

Run Ants, Run!

Science has come a long way from where it was decades ago and we have the advances in many technologies to thank for that. Since the 1960s, spherical treadmills have been used to study how animals on a much smaller scale walk and run. However, they haven’t been sensitive enough to keep up with an ants’ tiny and speedy legs. Researchers conducted a new study by building a treadmill specifically made for ants. This advanced treadmill consists of a highly responsive and lightweight styrofoam ball that they walk upon while being suspended by a leash made of dental floss that’s glued onto them. This flexible tether allows for the ants to roam as freely and naturally as possible without any heavy constraints affecting their movement because previous studies have been too rigid.  
With this treadmill, researchers were able to study the complex ant homing behavior. To begin, ants were captured from a feeding site located about 30 feet from their nesting site. At that distance, they had already developed a route to make their way back to the nest. After being transferred onto the treadmill, they would begin in the presumed direction by mechanisms observed in prior studies: using the sun’s position and the sky as a compass, and by calculating the distance traveled by counting steps. The direction and speed of the ant’s movement could be recorded. When the nest isn’t where it’s expected, ants take on a “search mode” after realizing they’re completely lost. When in search mode, the ants will slow down and follow a looping pattern. I’d imagine this is the type of behavior we’ve all witnessed from ants sometime in our life as kids when we’d block their pathways with our feet to see where they would go next (and we probably just enjoyed watching them scurry around in circles).

By being able to use this new equipment, an ant’s behavior could be studied more efficiently. Parameters could easily be controlled and tweaked to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms and neurophysiological activity associated with navigation.  



Posted by Natalie Nou (3)

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6 comments:

  1. Who knew that you could analyze the way ants walk/run by using a mini treadmill haha :) This is a very interesting and innovating way to study the way they move and even how they react. I actually clicked on the article and watched the video they provide and I was shocked by how fast they move! I also like how you included at the end of the blog about the "search mode". I could totally relate to blocking an ants pathway when I was younger and now I know it relates to a specific behavior mechanism!

    Posted by Angela Driscoll (group A)

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    1. Yeah, I thought the video was really cool because you could see the experiment in action! I can see why researchers needed to create new equipment that could work to study ants more accurately. They are very small insects, awesome to think they were able to create something sensitive enough to track their light and fast movement.


      Posted by Natalie Nou

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  2. I never knew ants were so smart when tracking where their "home nest" was. I just figured they went in a straight line to their feeding spot and then retreated directly back until they saw their nesting site. The "search mode" aspect is also really interesting and smart. If they get lost, they can assume they are somewhere near their nest and run in circles until they stumble across it. Its amazing to see behavioral mechanisms in such small creatures!

    Posted by Caitlin Lohr

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    1. I agree, it is pretty amazing haha. I mean, I think the human mind is a very complex thing and I always wonder how other animals think in comparison to us. I've weirdly always wondered "what on earth goes on in an ants head..." lol. But yeah, ants are probably a lot smarter than we think! To be that small roaming all this land, I would think that they follow many different mechanisms to survive and make their way home.


      Posted by Natalie Nou

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  3. Science sure has come a long way! The experiments we do now with the technology we continue to update and create are incredible. There is so much knowledge out there. I'm wondering where this information can take us. Could it be applied to more friendly "ant traps?"

    Post by Anna Potorski

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