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Can ant's count or how to torture ants for science?

 
 
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 12:28 pm
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120587095&ps=cprs
Quote:
Ants That Count!
by ROBERT KRULWICH


Harald Wolf of the University of Ulm and his assistant Matthias Whittlinger proposed that ants have "pedometer-like" cells in their brains that count the steps they take.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 4 • Views: 3,339 • Replies: 16
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Ionus
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 06:16 pm
@tsarstepan,
I have written a paper on this very subject but it wasnt published. In it I proposed ants had their ears on their legs. Pull off their legs, and then yell at them to walk. They cant hear you.

Do they count every step and then divide by 6 ??? If they back up, can they do negative numbers ?
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  2  
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 06:42 pm
@tsarstepan,
Poor bloody ants.
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  2  
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 06:47 pm
@tsarstepan,
The experiment they devised doesn't eliminate the possibility that the ants have a sense of how long it took them to get somewhere.

Maybe they don't count, but instead just remember about how long it took them to get there.

tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 07:05 pm
@rosborne979,
Interesting and thoughtful twist on the possible explanation of the whys for the ants miscalculations.
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 07:36 pm
@tsarstepan,
Back to the drawingboard for those scientists.
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 07:42 pm
@rosborne979,
Crack that peer review based whip!
http://i49.tinypic.com/2enuf82.jpg
0 Replies
 
Ionus
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 10:00 pm
@rosborne979,
To have a sense of how long it took they would still need imput from their legs. Standing still can not be counted. Only movement counts.
roger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Nov, 2009 11:34 pm
@Ionus,
I've never seen an ant stand still, though. On the other hand, much of their movement seems kind of aimless if you actually track a single ant.
Ionus
 
  2  
Reply Fri 27 Nov, 2009 12:14 am
@roger,
Ok, I just returned from the backyard. Ants, apart from those on guard duty, do stand still sometimes. I was not able to determine why they stand still (they are very snobbish) but they do wave their antenae and move their head around a lot when they do.

The 3 points of navigation are direction, distance and time. The experiment is obviously tackling distance and time, but how do they (the ants, not the researchers) know which direction ?
farmerman
 
  2  
Reply Fri 27 Nov, 2009 06:43 am
@Ionus,
Implicit in the research is that the ants do understand the direction. THey seem to head back to the nest but, depending upon the lengths of their legs, they either overshoot or undershoot the nest. APParently they are hard wired to return to the nest based upon some extra gangliar message center. Its been long known that insects and some fish have these ganglia at various points of their body besides their brains. This allows routine tasks to become hard wired by some feature thats not in the brains and perhaps even the genome. (We have been calling that epigenetics now and it seems to be why certain speacies "learn" tasks such as finding honey , or returning to a hive, or adapting to new directional cues.

Interesting but Im more concerned about how they got some poorass grad students to even participate . Usually such research leads to some kids thesis or diss. I dont know whether Id like to be part of an experiment like this to establish my researchy cred
Ionus
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 Nov, 2009 09:11 pm
@farmerman,
Quote:
Implicit in the research is that the ants do understand the direction.
Yes, I noticed that but I was wondering out loud how do they understand direction ? Is it based on shadow or a built in gyroscope ? The direction mechanism may be more important in distance and time then has been allowed for so far.
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 Nov, 2009 10:01 pm
@Ionus,
Ionus wrote:
To have a sense of how long it took they would still need imput from their legs. Standing still can not be counted. Only movement counts.

It seems reasonable that an insect brain could have a basic connection between time and it's own movement forward. At least, that seems no more of a stretch than counting.

If they are counting, then how high can they count? What if the food source is ten thousand steps away? What number system so they use? Is it base ten, or binary? Do they count steps, or leg cycles or body lengths or do they simply count seconds (and we're back to time)?

At the very least, I don't think the conclusion the media reported that these researchers arrived at, can be derived from the bounds of the experiment.

rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 Nov, 2009 10:07 pm
On a side note, last summer I found a trail of ants coming down my driveway and into my back yard. I became curious to see where they started and where they were going, so I backtracked them and followed the entire trail.

They started at the top of my driveway near a big copse of trees and traveled about 30 yards down the driveway around the back of my house, through the back yard, through the side yard and into a pile of rotting logs on the opposite side of my house. They actually took the long way to get there because if they had simply gone straight through the font yard it would have been substantially shorter leading me to believe that their chosen route had evolved from foraging rather than from any direct attempt to get from one place to another.

The entire distance was probably around 80 yards or more. I'm not sure what that translates to in "ant steps", but it's gotta be a lot.
Ionus
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 Nov, 2009 10:19 pm
@rosborne979,
Maybe they attempted the front yard route but you mowed them. I found a meat ant nest that was over 150m from my yard where they were annoying me. They seem to develop some trails into four lane highways.
0 Replies
 
Ionus
 
  1  
Reply Fri 27 Nov, 2009 10:39 pm
@rosborne979,
Quote:
It seems reasonable that an insect brain could have a basic connection between time and it's own movement forward.
It would be interesting to find the truth of this.
As the main purpose was to find out how ants in the desert find their way home without scent because of the wind, I wonder why counting time or footsteps would work when the wind might form more or less hills in their path ? When the size of them is considered, a 100m trip can have considerable hills.

I think the experiment did prove that some sort of counting is involved, be it time or distance.
0 Replies
 
cbsullivan16
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Sep, 2010 06:11 pm
@rosborne979,
The chosen route may also have to do with the amount of cover provided. It's a dangerous world out there for ants and the shortest distance may also be the shortest distance to some predator's stomach.
0 Replies
 
 

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