How intelligent are ants?

Black imported fire ant

It appears that ants are very intelligent, far more intelligent than perhaps 99.9% of the human population believe. A recent study supports the assertion. The study was published on 8 October 2020 and the source is the British Ecological Society. Researchers observed the behaviour of black imported fire ants. The study is titled: Ants adapt tool use to avoid drowning and it is published on Science Daily.

They used a laboratory experiment to test their intelligence and ability to use tools. They were provided with small containers of sugar water upon which they could float because of the surface tension. They could feed on the water while resting on it.

Black imported fire ant

AntWeb.org image of Order:Hymenoptera Family:Formicidae Genus:Solenopsis Species:Solenopsis richteri. This is the black imported fire ant.

The researchers reduced the surface tension by adding surfactant. The aunts began to sink into the water. To deal with the dilemma, they “started depositing sand grains on the inside of the container leading out of it”. They built a solid structure that drew the sugar water out of the container where it could be collected. They were able to siphon off “almost half of the sugar water…in five minutes”. These soundly built structures were never observed until the surface tension of the water went down. The test demonstrated the ants’ ability to use tools to forage. They also demonstrated an ability to detect risk to their survivability and adjust what they did with the use of tools.

The laboratory experiment is a remarkable demonstration of ants’ exceptional toolmaking skills. In addition, Jon Lieff MD writing on the internet in 2015 remarks that ants can navigate long distances, find food and communicate with each other and avoid predators. They care for family members like mammals. When they find a new home they take advice from more experienced associates. They decide collectively that a new space is appropriate for moving to.

They are altruistic and are led by the smartest in the group. They will help a colleague who is stuck at great risk to their lives. They’re able to combine various bits of information to navigation including the type of land they’re walking on, the wind, the direction of travel, the number of steps and smells et cetera. They respond immediately to threats as indicated in the laboratory experiment mentioned above. They decide how much energy to expend when dealing with threats. When the nest is damaged they work together in large numbers to fix the problem. They gather material to fix the nest.

When an item is too large for one ant to carry they cooperate and carry it as a group. They can connect one site to another by the shortest possible route. They mark paths with pheromones. Pheromones are scents. Cats produce pheromones as well to mark territory.

When ants farm fungus for food they use multiple antibiotics. They vaccinate the hive for mild illnesses when they are seriously ill they isolate themselves as humans do during the coronavirus pandemic! It is quite remarkable what the ant can do and they are definitely intelligent!