To better understand how ants educate one another, scientists have created a miniature robot.
The robot was designed to simulate the one-on-one tuition practised by rock ants, which allows an ant who has found a significantly better new nest to teach another ant how to get there.
Because the teaching ant may be substituted by a machine, the results, which were published in the Journal of Experimental Biology today, demonstrate that the majority of the critical components of teaching in these ants are now understood.
Tandem running, in which one ant literally guides another ant gently along a path to the new nest, is essential to this teaching process. Once the student ant has mastered the path, it can return home on its own, lead a tandem run to the new nest with a partner, and so on.
Nigel Franks, a professor at the School of Biological Sciences in Bristol, said, “We spend a lot of time either training others or learning new things ourselves since teaching is so significant in our own lives. This should make us ponder if non-human animals actually learn anything. In actuality, an ant was the first species in which instruction was systematically demonstrated.” The team sought to ascertain what was required and sufficient for such instruction. They should have a good understanding of all the key components of this procedure if they could construct a robot that could successfully take the position of the teacher.
The previous ant nest, which was purposefully created to be of poor quality, and the new, much superior nest, which ants could be brought to by a robot, were separated by a substantial distance in the researchers’ huge arena. A tiny sliding robot was attached to a gantry that could head back and forth on top of the arena so that the researchers could control it to go in either a straight or wavy path. The robot received the pheromone of an ant instructor by having appealing tiny pores from a worker ant attached to it.
Professor Franks clarified, “We wait for an ant to emerge from the old nest before positioning the attractive pheromone-adorned robot pin directly in front of it. The pinhead was designed to follow either a straight or a tortuous path to the new nest. The robot had to be allowed to be stopped in its tracks by us so that we could waiting for the next ant to catch up once it had scoured the area for landmarks.”
“We allowed the follower ant to inspect the new nest after the robot had guided it there before allowing it to start travelling home in its own time. The route of the heading back ant was then automatically followed using the gantry.”
The scientists discovered that the apprentice ant had been successfully taught the route by the robot. Whether they took a circuitous route or a direct one, the ants always understood how to go back to the old nest.
A winding road would give the following ant more time to better memorise sights so that it could make its way home as quickly as if it had been on a righteous line, according to Prof. Franks. A straight path might be speedier.
“The ability to contrast the behavior of the ants the robot had trained with those we took to the location of the new colony and who had not had a chance to learn the path was crucial. The trained ants returned home significantly faster and with much greater success.”
Undergraduates Edward Jarvis, a Masters student at Professor Nigel Franks’ lab, and Jacob Podesta, a current York Ph.D. student, carried out the experiments. Dr. Alan Worley programmed the gantry, and Dr. Ana Sendova-Franks oversaw all of the statistical analysis.
Their methodology ought to enable future investigation into the precise factors contributing to effective instruction.