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Ants Form A Superorganism When Threatened By Predators

Ants are capable of coming together as “one body” in the face of danger, thereby constituting a protection against threats. The scientific paper is published in PLOS ONE.

ant colony

Researchers from the University of Bristol have discovered that ants are endowed with the ability of exceptional coordination such that they form one entity – a ‘superorganism’ – to protect themselves from predators and other hazards.

They react differently as per their location.

One of the authors of the study, Thomas O’Shea-Wheller, explains that ant communities deal with the loss of individuals via “group awareness and reaction” just like humans react to pain.

The researchers observed the synchronised behaviour when they subjected 30 migrating ant colonies to several predator attack simulations. Ant scouts were caught from the periphery of the colony following which worker ants were removed from the middle. Upon learning what happened to their scouts, the ants shifted their foraging arms and reunited into a tight group. However, when worker ants (from the middle) were taken away, they reacted in an opposite manner: they dispersed outward to look for a safer location.

The researchers compared their behaviour with the nervous system responses of single organisms. They correlated the ants’ withdrawal of their arms with the example of the human reflex of removing their hands from a burning source. As for the outward movement of the ants, it was likened to the human response to fire in their houses.

“Our findings lend support to the superorganism concept, as the whole society reacts much like a single organism would in response to attacks on different parts of its body,” write the scientists. “The implication of this is that a collective reaction to the location of worker loss within insect colonies is key to avoiding further harm, much in the same way that the nervous systems of individuals facilitate the avoidance of localised damage.”


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