Ants may be small, but there’s no denying that they’re fascinating creatures. And their enchanting nature was recently highlighted in a viral video. That’s because the footage revealed the incredible lengths that one colony was willing to go to in order to wage war on a wasps’ nest.
Francisco Boni is an electronics engineering student from Florianópolis, Brazil. And aside from his passion for all things electronic, it seems that the young man also has an interest in insects. Because in August 2018 he shared a video about ants on Twitter that soon went viral.
For Boni, the footage in question amazingly demonstrated the “swarm intelligence” of ants. Swarm intelligence is a term for the collective behavior of these insects and how they work together to achieve a shared goal.
As a species, you see, ants live in colonies. The smallest of these contain fewer than a hundred of the insects, while the largest are formed of millions of ants. Yet all colonies consist of fertile females known as “queens,” fertile males termed “drones,” soldiers named “dinergates” and workers called “ergates.”
Colony ants are also able to communicate with one another, and within their societies labor is divided between members. In addition to this, colonies will often come together to solve complex issues. And this has led some scientists to compare ants’ social structures to those of humans.
Thanks to the insects’ ability to work together, then, ants have colonized most of our planet. In fact, they are only absent from Antarctica and a handful of islands. Many scientists have attributed this success, at least in part, to the organization of the ants’ social structures.
And in case anyone was in any doubt of ants’ abilities to work as a single entity, the video that Boni shared seemed to show such teamwork in action. In it, a colony dangles from a ceiling to form an incredible bridge.
It’s believed that as many as one million ants may have made up the impressive structure, which led directly into a wasps’ nest. Yes, it appeared that the colony was launching an attack on the nest. And the ants had the wasps’ prized honeycomb in their sights.
The ants in the video are known as legionary ants – a name that applies to a couple of hundred different ant types. What the ants in question all have in common, though, is their aggressive approach to foraging. And sometimes this can include stealing food directly from other species, such as wasps.
Usually, before these ants launch an attack, the colony dispatches ants to hunt for food. Once the foragers identify potential food sources, the insects will then team up in a bid to overwhelm their enemies.
In order to stay on the same track, ants give out pheromones that help keep the colony together. Often, the ants heading out to forage will occupy both outer lanes of a column, while returning insects travel through the middle. However, how this works in a bridge formation is not clear.
It’s hard to tell from the video precisely how successful the ants’ raid was on the wasps’ nest was. But the astonishing footage has certainly enlightened many people, including Boni, about the amazing teamwork that the insects are capable of.
Boni originally spotted the video on a Mexican Facebook page called El Entomólogo. When the footage was posted there, it was titled, “Attack of legionary ants (also known as army ants or marabunta) to a wasp honeycomb.”
The video description also revealed that the clip originated in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste National Park. And it added that the ant colony had displayed an “impressive level of organization to form that bridge.”
Moving on to the intricacies of such a raid, the El Entomólogo post revealed, “When this type of attack happens, the wasps usually escape, and the ants do not leave until they completely loot the honeycomb, carrying pupae, larvae and eggs as well as some adults who did not manage to escape.”
Despite the informative description, however, the video still left some viewers with questions. In particular, people couldn’t help but wonder why the ants went to the trouble of forming a bridge when they could have simply walked across the ceiling to the nest.
But according to El Entomólogo, there was a logical explanation behind the bridge. “It is easier to transport your booty over a bridge that goes down and then up than walk upside with their load,” the response read.
Another observer had a different idea about how the bridge had formed, however. Writing on Facebook in August 2018, Tibor Bedats suggested, “They started straight at the roof, but the line got heavier as more ants joined. Gravity did the rest. They end up hanging in the curve.”
Amazingly, this isn’t the first time that ant colonies have been observed forming such structures. As a biology professor, Simon Garnier has spent years studying army ants across the world. And he believes bridges form naturally in a swarm.
According to Dr. Garnier, ants instinctively stop when they reach a gap. As one freezes, other individuals start to head over its back until they too halt. As the ants repeat this process, a bridge begins to form. “There’s no architect ant saying, ‘We need to build this here,’” Garnier explained.