Research sheds fresh light on feats of social insects.
There is a growing tendency to look at the artefacts of social insects as the products of great minds. Apparently, such minds might even extend to possessing considerable intelligence and even consciousness itself. Social insects include ants, bees, termites and the like. Researchers have investigated the construction of the astonishing trails made across kilometres of forests by leafcutter ants. It turns out that the ants are each operating individually as they do their work. They might be removing leaves from the path or clearing soil or other debris. But they do not communicate with other, nor do they plan. They just act in, effectively, a pre-programmed fashion. The authors find, through clever modelling, that the collective effort of all the ants produces the trail as the result of a stochastic process. Just because it looks clever doesn’t mean it’s not mindless.
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