How Ants Communicate

Ants have never been accused of being too smart. An ant brain is rather small and an individual ant is capable of making only simple, uncomplicated decisions. And yet ants as a whole are extremely impressive and are capable of extraordinary feats.

And so one can wonder, how are these rather simple creatures able to accomplish extremely complicated and sophisticated results. What is it that enables them as a whole to accomplish that which ants as individuals can't even dream of doing?

The answer can be summed up in three words: Communication, Cooperation, and Compartmentalization.

Now, as the video above notes, at the heart of this system are simple rules. But that description seems a bit deceptive to me. It's true that each rule is in and of itself simple, but how about the system of rules as a whole? Collectively speaking, how simple are all the various rules that all the various ants follow in order to enable them to create an industrial leaf cutting, fungus-growing operation?

The video doesn't say, but I imagine the answer is anything but simple. It seems clear that the rules needed to create the place that ants call home are numerous, interconnected and as sophisticated as the home they built.

What's more, those rules don't just need to be coordinated, they also need to be created. Consider, as an example, the chemical trails that ants use to communicate with each other. What does it take to create those chemicals? How about to release, detect and understand them?

These questions illustrates an important point. Simple rules or codes are not necessarily simple to implement. They are rather the end result of a complicated process. And this is an important distinction to keep in mind. The rules or communication system may be simple, buts its creation (particularly its coordinated creation) is not.

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