Islamabad-Ants use their numbers to overcome navigational challenges that are too large and disorienting to be tackled by any single individual, reports a new study.

The results demonstrate the potential advantages of group living and collective cognition in making certain environments habitable for a species.

“Cooperation is a common means by which animals can increase their cognitive capacity, and we were intrigued as to whether this cooperation allows ants to extend the range of environments in which they can efficiently collect food,” says first author Aviram Gelblum, a postdoctoral fellow in senior author Ofer Feinerman’s lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.

“We addressed this question by studying the cooperative transport of ants as they attempted to transport large loads through semi-natural environments.” A semi-natural labyrinth was created by randomly spreading cubes of the same size across a surface, to mimic a random stone-riddled terrain. Longhorn crazy ants were then tracked while they carried food to a target — their nest — and the coordinates of the food load, the ants and cubes were extracted using image processing. As the number of cubes increased and the maze became more complex, the ants became slower at solving it. They were still able to solve mazes with up to 55% cube coverage, but at 60% coverage most mazes become physically impassable.