Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Everyone Knows an Ant Can't Teach a Food Source to Another Ant . . . But He's Got High Hopes

Can animals other than human beings intentionally teach lessons to their own kind? Bristol University researchers think yes, ants can:
The ants studied over two years by scientists from Bristol University used a technique known as tandem running -- one ant led another ant from the nest to a food source.

It was a genuine case of teaching as ant leaders observed by Professor Nigel Franks and Tom Richardson slowed down if the follower got too far behind. If the gap got smaller, they then speeded up.

. . . .

Information then flows through the ant colony when followers are promoted to leaders and the teaching process starts all over again.

"Teaching isn't merely mimicry. It involves the teacher modifying its behavior in the presence of a naive observer at some initial cost to itself," said Franks, who reported the findings in the journal Nature.

"We think real teaching involves a lot of feedback. This is to our knowledge the first example of formal teaching in non-human animals," he told Reuters.

Link. We at The Good Reverend are thinking of starting a worthwhile program where the best and brightest young ants just out of the pupal stage can dedicate one or two weeks of their life to teaching less fortunate ants where the picnic basket is. I'm just wondering what to call it.

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