Ants — most are teeny creatures with brains smaller than pinheads — engineer traffic better than humans do. Ants never run into stop-and-go-traffic or gridlock on the trail. In fact, the more ants of one species there are on the road, the faster they go, research said.
Researchers from two German institutions — the University of Potsdam and the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg — found a nest of black meadow ants (Formica pratensis) in the woods of Saxony. The nest had four trunk trails leading to foraging areas, some of them 60 feet long. The researchers set up a camera that took time-lapse photography, and recorded the ants' comings and goings.
Trunk trails are the main highways in and out of the nest, said Christiane Hoenicke, a Potsdam doctoral student and co-author of the paper in the German journal Science of Nature.
The ants set up each trail as a three-lane highway, Hoenicke said. When traffic was slow, the ants generally walked down the middle of the trail. When traffic picked up, they spread out.
Oddly, the heavier the traffic, the faster the ants marched. If an ant came across a blockage in the road — for instance, a leaf or small stone — it would pick up the obstacle, move it off the road and continue walking, making sure traffic was not interrupted.
Even collisions did not slow them down. The ants used the occasion to exchange traffic information and news of the trail, and then quickly move on, with the incoming ants going to the left of the outgoing insects.