This post is the third in “the ant network” trilogy; the first in the series discussed how the architectural topology of an ant nest can influence the collective behavior of ants, and the second post showed how having few talkative ants can increase the information spread within a colony. The paper cited for this last post lays down the bridge between the architectural network and the social network of an ant colony showing how the social network of ants is organized spatially within the architectural network of their nest. The authors of the paper have tracked all movements of the ants in six different colonies for six weeks without losing individual identities of ants. They attached a small piece of QR code on the back of an ant and took time-lapse photos, which were later analyzed to retrieve the spatio-temporal location and activity of each individual ant. They retrieved more than 9 million interactions and found that an ant is more likely to interact with another ant if both of them share the same ‘occupation’ (e.g. there are nursing ants, foraging ants, cleaning ants, etc). The interaction network shown below visually shows this task-biased giant components.
The study further showed that not only did the same task group ants interact with each other more frequently, but also different task groups were occupying different locations within a nest.
This implies that the spatial locations of ants within a nest make spatially closer ants to interact more frequently, which in turn made ants in proximity perform a similar ‘job’. Because spatial locations influence the interaction patterns within an ant society, we can imagine that under different nest architectures, ants will form different spatial distributions, which in turn may change the ‘job’ structure in their society. Here, we must remind ourselves that ants build their nests whose architecture influences their social structure; thus, in a way, ants are collectively determining their own society’s fate.