Insect Road Builders

Moebius Strip I I

Moebius Strip
MC Escher

Humans have historically spent much effort building trails and roads to improve the speed and efficiency of transportation. The time required to create relatively level paths cleared of entangling obstacles such as brush, limbs & boulders pays many fold returns in shorter travel times. Compare carrying groceries to your house every day on a smooth level sidewalk to a trip on uneven ground through a field of fallen limbs. The advantage is obvious.

It is not surprising to find ants engaged in trail building activity. The largest workers of the leaf cutting ant, Atta columbica, clear trails of debris. The workers carry small pieces of litter to the sides of the trail and cut larger pieces into sizes that are easily moved much the same way that humans will saw fallen limbs blocking a trail and push them aside.

Howard* measured the costs of trail building. Colonies maintained 2.7 km of trail at the cost of 11,000 ant-days of work. The same ants could have carried 8000 leaf burdens. However, the number of leaf burdens is a hundred times greater and the costs of trail building are quickly paid by more numerous, faster and more efficient foraging trips.

Jerome J. Howard. (2001) Costs of trail construction and maintenance in the leaf-cutting ant Atta columbica. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 49:348-356
DOI 10. 1007/s002650000314

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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One Response to Insect Road Builders

  1. Pingback: Insect Road Builders – Entomo Planet

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