Ants are among the few animals capable of organizing themselves to carry loads much heavier than a single individual, and to lift and bring to the goal "exaggerated" weights put in group work and individual initiative: two "forces in perfect balance", suggests a study published in Nature Communications.

Removals for science. Ofer Feinerman, a physicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, examined the transport strategies of the Paratrechina longicornis, tropical and subtropical ants also known as "crazy ants" due to their apparently disordered gait. The insects were filmed with loads of different sizes, from breakfast cereals to silicone rings of 8 or 16 cm in diameter - compared to the 2-3 mm of the ants.

Image Exceptional load. The idea of ​​the study came from a colleague of Feinerman who saw groups of ants engaged in stealing food from the cat's bowl, in his apartment. | Simone Ori

Space for ideas. For Feinerman, 90% of the time these insects act "following the flow", ie pulling or pushing in the same direction as the rest of the group. But in 10% of the cases they make their own head: an initiative that instead of throwing confusion in the platoon, proves to be providential.

This way. If the majority of the group takes care of the bulk of the weight, without worrying about the direction, some ants fulfill the leadership role, establishing the way to go. But the garments are not fixed or pre-established: every time a new better-informed ant joins the team, it does not need to communicate its presence. It is enough to tug in the direction that knows how to be the right one for the whole group to begin to follow it. After 10-20 seconds, he gives up the command scepter, in favor of a new insect with more updated information.

Image Some of the special transports shown in the animated film Minuscule - The Valley of the Lost Ants (2013), which features several ant platoons (here the trailer). |

No surprises. This model works best for objects of medium size, about 1 cm wide: so to speak, those that can be easily introduced into the entrance of an anthill. When the load is much bigger, and the mass of ants necessary for transport, more substantial, the insects feel more urgently the need for conformism. The individual initiative is reduced, and the object is moved on straight and linear routes (but the ability to get around obstacles is reduced).