ANT DEMOCRACY: HOW DO ANTS VOTE?

“Country Gentleman” magazine cover, November 1922. The 19th Amendment giving all women the right to vote wasn’t ratified until August 1920. (from here)

We take ourselves way too seriously. We have these big brains. We drive cars, fly airplanes, and go to the moon. We’re organized! We cooperate! We like to think of our democracy as highly sophisticated. It isn’t.

When ants are confronted with information overload and face too many decisions — about where to live, for instance — they revert to the wisdom of the crowd.

Despite having a brain smaller than the point of a pin, one ant species uses an elaborate system of sending out scouts to look for new homes. The scouts report back, and then the whole colony votes, according to researchers at Arizona State University.

The ants use chemistry and crowdsourcing, wrote associate professor of biology Stephen C. Pratt and graduate student Takao Sasaki at Arizona State University, in the current issue of Current Biology. (continue here)

In “THE LAW” VERSUS A CLEAR CONSCIENCE — reblogging Your Sister is in Jail, we considered Kim Davis’ refusal to obey the dictates of our rogue judicial system. We considered all these holy than thou pronouncements that if she isn’t going to obey “The Law” she ought to resign. Of course, the folks making these pronouncements always carefully obey the letter of The Law, and they don’t support the appointment of judges who make “The Law” say whatever want it to say. But that’s another subject. This post is about ant democracy, not our own.

Can you imagine how ants decide where to put their nest or colony? Observation suggests they vote with their feet. The fancy word is quorum.

But the ants live in areas in which the potential number of possible nest sites is overwhelming. One ant can’t cope with making the decision. No one is in charge in an ant nest.

“They distribute the task among colony members,” said Sasaki.

That’s where the crowdsourcing comes in.

According to Pratt and Sasaki, the ants send scouts to check out some potential home sites. The scouts look at such things as the size of the entrance and how big the cavity is. If the ant likes what she sees, she returns to the colony.

She sends out a pheromone message, “Follow me,” and another ant will join her in what is called tandem running. She takes her colleague out to view the potential site.

If the second ant likes what she sees, she goes back and repeats the process, bringing back another ant. If she doesn’t like it, she merely returns to the colony. If enough ants like a site, the colony reaches a quorum, essentially choosing the new home. (from here)

Think about the choice of words, “the ants send scouts to check out some potential home sites.” Really? Nope! “No one is in charge in an ant nest.” For some reason (I have no idea what reason.), scouts “decide” to scout. After that, a nonviolent struggle begins. In a test of “wills,” “persuasive power,” and endurance, the ants pick their new colony. When we are lucky, we make collective decisions so well.

If you are curious, here are some other articles on the subject. Just remember one thing. We don’t understand how ants make decisions. We are not that smart. We can only model their behavior. Maybe, however, if we study ants enough, maybe we can learn from them how to run a democracy peaceably.

8 thoughts on “ANT DEMOCRACY: HOW DO ANTS VOTE?

  1. That’s interesting stuff about a bug I normally don’t think much about nor particularly like. Don’t ants live more like a monarchy though with a Queen ruler? Or is that bees? Regardless, their efficiency in getting things done with such precision is amazing. If only we could get rid of the many giant ego, power hungry bugs destroying our little patch of democracy here, we might be able to get somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This ant business makes me think of the Word of God, stating: “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). There is much to be said about ants, that is, ants are an example of industry, diligence, planning, and intelligence. God’s creation never seizes to astound me.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Good post. Fits in with the messages immigrants, legal, illegal, or asylum seekers are sending back to cause the Exodus taking place from the Mid East to Europe and probably soon to the USA..

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

    Liked by 1 person

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