Ants duck-n-cover?

I’ve had these little black ants in the kitchen for a while now. (Maybe I’m a little slovenly…)

Anyway, one day I had too much (of the ants), so I got some anti-ant spray (apparently pretty toxic stuff) and sprayed around the places they were coming in.

Well, later that day I discovered what must have been those stranded on the kitchen side of the war zone. And they were doing something strange. There were little clumps of 6-10 ants scattered along the back of the counter (near, but not in, the area I’d sprayed). They were alive, because periodically one would leave a clump, wander around for a little while, and join another clump.

They looked kind of forlorn all huddled together like that. :frowning:

Anyway, any idea what was going on with these survivors?

They’re little ant group therapies. They’re dealing with “survivor guilt”. :smiley:

I hope your SDMB public liability insurance is payed up jayjay, coz I’m making a claim for the cost of cleaning sprayed Coke off a keyboard and monitor.

Don’t do that without warning in GQ. I’m not used to it.

Well, if no one has a real entomological answer, maybe the mods could move this thread to MPSIMS and we can see what happens to it there…

Funny as hell, but wrong. They are agents of al-Queda, trying to find a way back into the walls to regroup and terrorize the OP. :wink:

Ants ain’t very bright individually, LITP. They have very small brains (order of a few hundred neurons, IIRC) and this means they only have a few simple behaviours “programmed in” (such as following the pheromone trails laid by other ants).

Ants get their power from so-called “swarm intelligence” where simple behaviours can lead to complex problem-solving abilities (in the above example, if say a dead cricket is a few metres from the nest, as soon as one ant finds it & bites a bit off and carries it back to the nest, the others will soon “find” it too by following the first one’s pheromone trail, giving the nest a very efficient food-gathering ability).

I’d guess that you’re seeing some sort of swarm behaviour where one of the ants is trying to find a toxin-free path ( => if and only if it comes back, the path it used was toxin-free), but this is just an educated guess.

I’m not an entomologist, but I have a casual interest in the subject (I’ve read a lot of Wilson and Holldobler), and I think jinty is right. An individual ant is an extremely simple piece of software; the remarkable effectiveness of the colony as a whole comes from the interactions of thousands of units of basic behavioral programming working in concert. Given the way ants tend to follow one another around and react to chemicals and odors, it stands to reason that if a large enough group of them got separated from “home base,” they would end up following each other around in an ever-tightening spiral until they wound up in the forlorn clump you describe. It’s also true that individual ants can randomly split off from the “obvious” program, as this is how food sources can be located away from established ant trails, which accounts for the scouts you’ve observed. Of course, it might also be a survival behavior specific to the species, a reaction to the separation that other types of ants might not exhibit; given that there’s safety in numbers (they can defend themselves against smaller foes, say an ant from another colony or a spider, and compare how schooling fish are safer from predators like barracudas because every additional member of the group makes it less likely that any given individual will be targeted), different species of ants might group themselves in different ways. That’s speculative, of course, but I think it’s reasonable.