Do ants get lost?

Or could they join a new colony?
12 February 2019


A single ant



What happens to an ant that I blow off my 3rd floor balcony into the garden?  Does it simply join another colony?


Chris Smith put this question from David on The Naked Scientists forum to insect expert Eleanor Drinkwater.

Eleanor - Oh, probably not. Sadly, ants tend to be very territorial so chances are he'd probably wandered into someone else's territory and unfortunate things might happen to him. But I'm gonna caveat this by saying that different ant species have incredible navigational abilities. If it's still within the foraging range of this particular colony, which sounds unlikely given the scale, they might just find they're way back. Different ants navigate in different ways so like, for example, some desert ants, they count the number of steps away from that their nest. And whereas other ones would rely on visual cues. There was a study done on sugar ants in which they picked it up and they plonked it somewhere which was still within the foraging range but away from home. And they found that they could find the way back. But if it was outside the foraging range, the poor little fellows would walk round around in circles trying to find visual cues which unfortunately they wouldn't because they're out of their range.

Chris - So it's curtains for the ant off the third floor balcony point?

Eleanor - Yeah probably.


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