As far as insects are concerned ants are clearly intelligent. Ants are capable of building complicated nests, and they can navigate their way through long stretches of terrain while still being able to find the quickest route back to their nests. Ants are known for being some of the most clever architects, engineers and warriors of all insect species. So there is no doubting that ants are intelligent, right? Well, actually no, ants are complete idiots, but only as individuals. Ant colonies can be considered as one single thinking mind, but an individual ant does not possess much intelligence at all. According to Deborah M. Gordon, a biologist at Stanford University, ants cannot accomplish many tasks as individuals because they are too inept. Without the colony, an individual ant has no idea what to do with itself. But if that is true, then how is it that over twelve thousand species of ants have thrived on earth for one hundred and forty million years? There is no doubt about the fact that ants have enjoyed success on earth for a long while, and they have learned to collectively form strict caste systems. Researchers refer to this sort of collective intelligence as “swarm intelligence”.
Researchers are not exactly sure how swarm intelligence came into existence. After all, sometimes individual ants must disagree on what should be done. However, ants all make split second decisions that are critical to a colonies survival all of the time. In the ant world, there is no need for arguments or politics. Ants are self organizing insects, as they do not have a boss or a general of any kind. Of course all ant colonies have a queen, but the queen is only tasked with laying eggs, the queen does not take time to issue orders to the entire colony. Some researchers have theories concerning how ants communicate important information.
One theory is that ants communicate by sniffing out information from other ants within their colony. All ants can use touch and smell in order to sense which other ants are fellow colony members and which are strangers. For example, when ants forage for food, they will wait until ant patrollers arrive at the nest early in the morning. Once the patrollers arrive, they will rub their antennas against the antennas of the foragers. This antenna contact transmits smells that alert the foragers to leave in order to locate food. However, the foragers must make contact several times with separate patrol ants, and within a particular amount of time before the foragers leave. As you can tell, ant communication is complicated, but the evolutionary success of ants is certainly due to their ability to communicate by sensing the information conveyed in each others odors.
Do you believe that ants could use any other forms of sensory information in order to communicate?