Talkative Ants spread Information

In this previous post, we saw how the topology of an ant nest changed the collective behavior of ants. In this post, we will look at the topology of the interaction network among ants and how it influences the information flow in an ant colony. Imagine there is an important information (i.e. the discovery of leftover Orange chicken) that needs to be transferred to all members of a colony. Since an ant cannot shout to each other, the only way she can transfer information to another ant is by making antennal contacts. There are two ways that the speed of information spread can increase among a group of ants: 1) every ant starts to move around more frequently, 2) few ants move around much more frequently than other ants. Either way the overall ant to ant encounter rate increases; therefore information spreads faster among ants. This study showed that the existence of few ‘talkative’ ants accelerated the information spread among ants. They found that this was actually more efficient way to spread information than start making all ants ‘talk’ more with each other. When they mapped the interaction network among all ants in their experiments, they found the degree distribution was exponential. So what if we take out those few ‘talkative’ individuals from the colony? Interestingly, according to this study, there the role of being a ‘talkative’ ant seems a transient phenomena. The ‘talkativeness’ dynamically emerged when there is a need for information spread and disappeared, but there was no need for a particular ant to play a role of a messenger. Nothing is pre-determined, yet everything that is necessary will be created in an ant society.

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