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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