Virtually every article or documentary about ants takes a moment to fawn over their incredible collective achievements. Together, ant colonies canraise gardens and livestock, build living rafts, run vaccination programmes, overpower huge prey, deter elephants, and invade continents. No individual could do any of this; it takes a colony to pull off such feats.
But ants can also screw up. Like all animal collectives, they face situations when the crowd’s wisdom turns into foolishness.
Takao Sasaki and Stephen Pratt from Arizona State University found one such example among house-hunting Temnothorax ants. When they need to find a new nest, workers spread out from their colony to search for good real estate. In earlier work, Sasaki and Pratt have shown that, as a group, the ants are better at picking the best of two closely matched locations, even if most of the workers have only seen one of the options. It’s a classic example of swarm intelligence, where a colony collectively computes the best solution to a task.
But Sasaki showed that this only happens if their choice is difficult. If one nest site is clearly better than the other, individual ants actually outperform colonies.
Written By: Ed Yongcontinue to source article at phenomena.nationalgeographic.com