View Full Version : Scout ants

06-02-1999, 11:23 AM
In the past hour I've squashed about a dozen ants that I've noticed scampering independently across my desk. It was raining all night, and I figure these are scouts looking for a new home for their brethren. I never see more than one at a time and I'm wondering if ants use any kind of stratagy when they send out these "scouts". At least a dozen of them wont be reporting back to HQ. How many will have to disappear before they collectively decide that my desk isn't a good place to go?

Do researchers have any idea how this process of "scouting" works in ants and other insects? Do they just go back to the nest and give some signal that says "Follow me!" or is it more complicated than that?

How many more ants need to die before they realize that my desk is sovereign, unconquerable territory?

Aon Dia.
Aon Tir.
Aon Ite.

06-02-1999, 11:46 AM
I don't have a good answer to your questions, but I'm having a similar ant problem. My strategy is to leave a few ant bodies scattered around so following ants get the message - but I don't know how effective the message is.

Bees do a "bee dance" to tell the rest of the hive the location of a food source. I know this because my high school biology teacher insisted on performing the Bee Dance in class at the slightest provocation (he wasn't very good at it - no bees ever followed him). I guess I assumed ants communicated in a similar fashion.

Maybe a small flag atop your desk, declaring you got there first and have already claimed it?

06-02-1999, 02:19 PM
In the past hour I've squashed about a dozen ants that I've noticed scampering independently across my desk. It was raining all night, and I figure these are scouts looking for a new home for their brethren. I never see more than one at a time and I'm wondering if ants use any kind of stratagy when they send out these "scouts". At least a dozen of them wont be reporting back to HQ. How many will have to disappear before they collectively decide that my desk isn't a good place to go?

If you see the ants, most likely they've already taken up residence in your house. The scouts are looking for food, not a place to live. It's the queen that chooses a place for the nest, once she mates.

Ants go out searching randomly. If they find food, they return to the nest following the pheremone trail they've created. This doubling back increases the amount of pheremones. Other ants follow these doubled trails; if they find food, they return, further doubling. As more ants follow the trail and return, the scent of the pheremones becomes stronger, attracting more ants until you have a bunch of them in your sugar bowl.

www.sff.net/people/rothman (http://www.sff.net/people/rothman)

06-02-1999, 03:03 PM
_Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynmann_ has a decent little section on a kind of idle experiment Feynmann did as an undergrad with ants and how they built up their trails. Nothing major, just kind of a curious man having fun.

>>while contemplating the navel of the universe, I wondered, is it an innie or outie?<<

---The dragon observes

06-02-1999, 03:04 PM
You need to put the heads of the defeated on spears and arrange them threateningly along the border of your sovereign territory. At least then they'll have no reason to be surprised when the exterminator comes.

06-02-1999, 03:07 PM
Read "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" by Richard Feynman. He has a whole chapter about his home experiments with ants.
If you've ever seen ants in your house when they've found something, you'll see them marching along a fixed trail that starts from a hole in the wall or floor. It can wander from one room to the next, up onto furniture, over sinks, into medicine cabinets, etc., finally terminating on the one little goody they've found, like a piece of a cookie or something.
Ants "communicate" using a pheromone trail. The entire system is designed to locate good stuff in the environment of the colony, and to establish a logistical chain that carries it back. As they walk they excrete the pheromone. If an ant has found something great, like a piece of food on the floor, it excretes much more of the pheromone than ants who have just been scouting around and haven't found anything. "Punishing" ants, by killing or injuring them, is unlikely to affect their behavior- their behavior is based on rewards, not avoidance.
Subsequent ants sniff for the trail and try to follow it- eventually ending up at either the goody or the colony. Ants in North America don't know whether they're going forwards or backwards on the trail, unlike the ants in South America who CAN tell. They also don't follow it exactly- they go too fast and carelessly wander off the trail, and sometimes their path brings them back onto it. (Otherwise they hunt around for it until they pick it up again.) When they smell that they're on the trail, they excrete greater amounts of pheromone. As a result of this imperfect tracking behavior, the trail between the colony and the goody they've found gradually becomes shorter and straighter, more concentrated with pheromone, and more heavily trafficked. The actual pheromone itself continuously evaporates off the floor, and without any reinforcement by continued ant traffic, it evaporates completely in a half hour or so.
This system generally works very well for the ants- it's simple and yet incredibly efficient. One trick that you can do, if you are very patient and resourceful, is to get the ants to march around in a big circle. Once this is set up, they blindly follow the track around and around, reinforcing it as they go, until they drop dead of exhaustion.

06-02-1999, 03:09 PM
Ok. But how do mood rings work?

06-02-1999, 04:52 PM
I've seen the circle thing work in a book on animal behavior. It was done on the edge of a coffee cup where they had about 20 ants wandering along the lip over and over, not getting anywhere. Those wacky scientists. Personally, I see ants on occassion in my living room wandering about which is no big suprise since my apartment is on the ground floor and has no screen. I kill them before they can find anything yummy to report back about and my ant occurances are rare enough for me to assume my plan has worked. If it comes down to it, you can always spray your entire desk with Diazinon which will keep the ants off provided you never wanted to touch your desk again.

"I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn't."

06-02-1999, 07:21 PM
YAAAAAAAH I hate ants!

My two cents: I used to have an ant problem at a previous residence, and I almost went batty trying to squash the bugs one by one. Mom's advice to sprinkle Comet on the surface was a big failure, since I succeded in getting them off the kitchen counter and under the cabinet where I could squash no more. Thanks Mom. Then I tried this Miraculous Insecticide Chalk (bought in Mexico, with everything on the package except "Miraculous Insecticide Chalk" written in Chinese).

That worked OK, you encapsulate the ants or draw lines across their trails, and then the little shits track the poison back to the Queen. Not speaking Chinese, I don't know about any contraindications about drawing with the stuff on kitchen countertops, but if it's bought in Mexico it must be consumer friendly. : P

"Anything is peaceful from one thousand, three hundred and fifty-three feet."

06-02-1999, 08:26 PM
Ants really don't like the smell of smashed ant, and they can detect it from a considerable distance. Find an ant trail and smash an ant or two in the middle. The trail will immediately start to break up and the ants will mill around for a while before they reestablish the line. They also move a lot faster.

Ants also don't like to be breathed on (try it).

06-02-1999, 08:34 PM
If you have a good ant trail going and want to screw with them, draw your finger across the trail and watch them have to re-build it.

Mastery is not perfection but a journey, and the true master must be willing to try and fail and try again

06-02-1999, 10:51 PM
Just move the monolith. Then they'll never find Insectopia.

06-02-1999, 11:30 PM
One little piece of knowledge that I never really took advantage of: ants will supposedly never cross a line of cream of tartar (calcium tartrate, sold in the spice aisle and used to make baked stuff feel creamier in your mouth).
I envision an ant trapped on my kitchen floor, trying to figure out a way out of the tartaric maze.

06-03-1999, 12:59 AM
It appears to be pheromones mostly. Check out these links.



One of these pages was written for kids and the other was written by a kid, so you'll probably feel like smacking me when you read them. It was the best I was able to come up with, though.

Oh, and have maintence call a damn exterminator, for cryin'-out-loud!

"I wept because I had no shoes, then I met a man with no feet. So I took his shoes" - Dave Barry

06-03-1999, 08:59 AM
- - - Years back I read that ants wouldn't cross a white line. The article said a chalk line would do, so I went outside on the sidewalk and drew a chalk circle around an ant. It did go around and around inside the circle for a while, but eventually it carefully and slowly picked its way across the chalk line and wandered off. - MC

06-04-1999, 08:03 PM
Living in California, we have the dreaded Argentine ant (doesn't sting or bite, but they get into everything). Anyway, usually the problem goes away if you take away any food thats open. They love greasy, sugary things. I only have a problem when it rains. Its kind of hard to get rid of them since my front yard has several of their nests! Often i find them scurrying about with their children after i water the yard...