Ants — most are teeny creatures with brains smaller than pinheads — engineer traffic better than humans do. Ants never run into stop-and-go-traffic or gridlock on the trail. In fact, the more ants of one species there are on the road, the faster they go, according to new research.
Researchers from two German institutions — the University of Potsdam and the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg — found a nest of black meadow ants (Formica pratensis) in the woods of Saxony. The nest had four trunk trails leading to foraging areas, some of them 60 feet long. The researchers set up a camera that took time-lapse photography, and recorded the ants’ comings and goings.
…Oddly, the heavier the traffic, the faster the ants marched. Unlike humans driving cars, their velocity increased as their numbers did, and the trail widened as the ants spread out.
In essence ants vary the number of open lanes, but they have another trick as well:
“Ant vision is not that great, so I suspect that most of the information comes from tactile senses (antennas, legs). This means they are actually aware of not only the ant in front, but the ant behind as well,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That reduces the instability found in automobile highways, where drivers only know about the car in front.”
Driverless vehicles can of course in this regard be more like ants than humans.