Ants and Their Friends

By Anupum Pant


If you consider the habits, social organization, communities, network of roadways, possession of domestic animals, and counting skills of ants, they are not very different from humans. Yes, ants even domesticate animals. And we’ve talked about their counting skills in the past. Then, I came across a very interesting experiment sir John Lubbock decided to do on ants.


He had in his captivity a number of varieties of ants living in different colonies. One day he saw a group of ants feeding on honey together. He picked twenty five of them and managed to intoxicate them by some method, others were left there, feeding on honey.

Next, he picked twenty five other ants of the same species, from a different colony and intoxicated them too. He then placed all of these 50 intoxicated ants near the honey, in the path which the ants were using to move to and fro from the honey.

He watched them for hours and it was an amazing thing he found. The twenty five ants which belonged to the same colony of ants that were feeding on honey were treated much differently by them, than the other 25 ants of the same species that belonged to a different nest! Somehow they were able to identify the ants of their own nest – differentiate friends from strangers.

Twenty out of the twenty five friend ants (which belonged the same nest) were carried by the honey feeding ants to their home. While about 18 of the other intoxicated stranger ants were picked up and thrown into water.
There were just 5 friend ants which were thrown into water (probably accidentally) and 6 stranger ants which were carried back to home (probably accidentally, again)

Nevertheless, most ants were correctly identified as friends and strangers. Moreover, I think their reaction to drunk friends and drunk strangers was so much like what human beings would do!

Next Experiments

In an experiment which he did later, the researcher tried separating friend ants (of the same nest) for about 4 months. And when they met after 4 months they were able to clearly identify each other. They caressed each other with their antennae.

In other experiments when he introduced a stranger ants in a nest, the strangers were evicted immediately and sometimes even killed.

There are a couple of other interesting experiments he has mentioned in his article here. Do read it whenever you find time. [link]

Mind Controlling Fungus Turns Insects into Zombies

By Anupum Pant

If you have played the game Last of Us on PS3, you’d know that the game is set in a time 20 years after a fungal-based, brain-altering pandemic has taken over the world and infected nearly 60% of the world’s population. Sounds too fictional. Right? Well, of course the game is fictional, but the brain-altering fungus parasite is not very far from reality.

The real fungus, Cordyceps isn’t really fatal to Human beings. However, there’s always a chance. In a very absurd way they kill insects. In fact their life cycle is totally dependent on insects. And a there are more than 1000 different kinds of these fungi, each one of which specializes on one kind of insect. What these fungi do to insects is something very incredible.

The fungus infects insect brains and turns them into zombies! Something similar to what this wasp does to cockroaches. This is how it works…

When an insect comes in contact with the spores of this parasitic fungus, they start acting in a weird manner. That is because the fungus affects its brain and turns it into a zombie, an insect zombie which takes directions from a fungus. The infected brain tells the insect to climb up. At some point, high up on a tree or plant, the insect dies and the fungus hollows the body and starts growing a shoot out of the insect. It’s bizarre to watch! (see the video below)

The fungus programs the brain to make the insect move up because its life-cycle actually benefits from it. The higher the insect goes, the better its spores can spread and can have a better reach.

The fungus is like a nature’s way of saying to an insect species that your population has reached very high levels.

Hit like if you learnt something.

Appreciating Ants and Their Counting Skills

By Anupum Pant

Success = Ants

Ants are arguably the most successful multi-cellular organisms to have ever existed on earth. The first ants on earth started appearing long before humans, even before dinosaurs – about 120 million years from now. Since then, they have even survived a mass extinction event (Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event) which wiped off all the dinosaurs from the face of our planet.

Sheer Number

Except Antarctica, the Arctic, and some other remote islands, ants have spread into almost every other part of the land. In fact, today, there are so many ants in the world that for each human being on the planet, at any point of time, there are about 1.5 billion living ants – about 10 thousand trillion ants in total! Of these 8000 kinds of ants that exist, only 10% of the species have been studied.

Collective intelligence

Ants, individually aren’t very bright. But they live in vast colonies that can include upto 50 million individuals in a single colony. Each one of them can contribute their own intelligence to the group, to form a huge brain – a “collective intelligence” of a super-organism. Just like each of our neurons in our brains work individually to form an intelligent brain.

For example, it is known that each of the fire ant’s exoskeleton is made up of a material that repels water. Together, these ants can take advantage of this blessing to survive floods. It has been seen that several hundreds of ants can, within seconds, assemble into a raft that floats on water for a long time. They don’t need your boat Dexter.

Their homes

Ants are able to build massive underground cities. Some scientists have tried pouring molten aluminum or concrete, and digging into their underground cities to study their structure. The results were incredible. A colossal network of well ventilated highways and side-roads was found connecting their colonies. It seemed as if the whole structure was designed by a single master-mind. [Video]

And they can also count

In the arid deserts where the winds are powerful enough to blow away the chemical trails marked by ants, they use their in-built pedometers (step counting machines) to find their way back home. [Video]