The International Space Station offers an opportunity to study the effects of microgravity on animal behavior. Space on the station is limited and ants provide an ideal social animal to study in a small space. Myrmecologist, Deborah Gordon, has an experiment to study how microgravity affects ant search behavior.
Pavement ants, at high density, conduct intensive search with frequent turns and at low density, conduct expansive searches with less frequent turns and much straight line movement. Pavement ants judge density by the frequency of contact with other ants. At low density, contacts are less frequent than at high density. Microgravity changes the locomotion of the ants. The question, “Do ants have the same search response function to ant density under microgravity as they do under earth gravity?”
Why study ant search behavior? The swarm bots of the future will need computer algorithms to conduct efficient searches. Ants are an excellent model system for efficient group searches.
NASA has the video: