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December 20, 2017
Are ants intelligent? Yes, say many academic researchers. An individual ant may not be that intelligent but a colony of ants is. A typical ant colony might consist of millions of army ants and together they become an intelligent super-organism. Among others, ants know when to keep their nests warm and do coordinated foraging for food with no single ant being a leader among them.
It seems their intelligence is a property of collective intelligence. It is a known fact that intelligence involves the rational processing and perception of symbolic information. The human consciousness itself has an extraordinary processing power and our intelligence stems from the truth of how we are able to access internal and external information from this processing power.
Ants seem to have accessed this enormous external information and they pass this information from one individual ant to another ant by reading and writing those symbolic information. They do this by leaving trails of pheromones, which act as stimuli to motivate other ants to make actions and make remarkable changes in the way they behave. This corroborates to say “ants have feelings”. For example, through the pheromone trail, ants get clues on whether they should go out for foraging or not.
Ants have two commendable properties. One is time keeping and the other is navigation. Ants maintain precise times and this shows up in their nomadic phase and stationary phase. The ants maintain a strict 15 days nomadic phase during which their larvae are growing. This is followed by a stationary phase of 20 days for the pupae to develop.
We are talking about Army ants here, which live in the amazon rain forests. There are about 200 species of army ants and they are known for their aggressive foraging behavior known as raids. How the army ants navigate into the South American rain forests is a mystery. To explain in a simple way, they all act as one and move as one. An interesting article on this behavior is on Scientific American. You can read the article here. You can also read another article on swarming ants here
During the stationary phase, they orient themselves and when they go out on raids, they separate each raid area by an average of 123 degrees. This separation of raid area allows new prey to enter their domain of previously raided areas. Interesting!
Compounding to this mystery is their eyesight. Their eyesight is not so powerful as the other species of insects who have multi-faceted compound eyes. The ants only have a single facet giving them a very normal eyesight. Now with this they are able to navigate into the dense forests, unhindered.
The answer could be in the fact that a swarm of army ants could be contributing to this remarkable navigation. Together the ants have thousands of compound eyes and they all act as one and move as one accessing and processing information together as one.