When ants raid a family picnic to pick away at leftovers, it might look like pure chaos. But, that's really not the case. (Flickr / Dawn Camp)
In fact, it's the opposite. And, new research suggests the tiny crawlers' rank-and-file methods might be so good, so systematic and efficient, that they beat out perhaps our most prolific Internet search engine.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims the ants devise "highly complex networks" to collect food that are "far more efficient" than all the algorithms and formulas used by Google — yes, Google — to shoot out its search results. (Via Potsdam Institute for Climate Research)
A study co-author told The Independent: "I’d go so far as to say that the learning strategy involved in that, is more accurate and complex than a Google search. These insects are, without doubt, more efficient than Google in processing information about their surroundings."
Still, an individual ant is not the smartest creature. The magic happens when they come together. Here's how the little buggers do it.
First, a single ant takes whatever crumb it finds back to its nest, but, in doing so, leaves behind a trail of pheromones that marks the path. Then, other ants follow suit, with more pheromones released, creating a more refined path. Which then attracts even more ants. Lather, rinse and repeat, and pretty soon an optimal path is forged between food source and their nest. (Via YouTube / Karl Westworth, politplatschquatsch, yannigk)
The study had a second finding as well — that the age of the ant made a difference in how well it could track down food.
As Time explains, older ants have more experience, and, therefore, better street smarts, allowing them to create those optimal pathways to food easier even though younger ants might move quicker. The younglings then just kind of learn what they can and wait their turn.