Barcoded Ants


Photo: Alessandro Crespi

How do you track the movement of hundreds or thousands of ants in a colony? With barcodes, of course! A team of Swiss scientists glued barcodes to hundreds of individual ants to record their movement to shed some light on the complexity of ant colonies:

Not surprisingly, the researchers found out that ants divide and conquer. They found three main groups of workers—one tends the young, another forages for food, and a third keeps the nest clean. Other studies have documented this segregation of labor before, but Mersch et al wanted to figure out how the ants know which groups they belong to. [...]

These researchers suspected that age might play a role in the division of labor, but it’s not easy to figure out how old an ant is. Instead, the researchers spent 60 weeks in advance of the experiment tagging the ants as they emerged from their pupal state—each week got its own color code.

Analyzing the color codes, they found that younger ants were more likely to work nursing the young, and older ants were more likely to be foragers. In general, they watched ants transition from nursing to cleaning to foraging as they age, but there’s a lot of individual variation in how quickly these transitions took place.

Kate Prengaman of Ars Technica has the post: Link


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