Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ants! (Update)

First of all, my grand ant plans from last week will have to wait for another location. It turns out that Aptima has a clause in its employee handbook explicitly prohibiting employees from fostering ant mills...
I was able to study them further with the help of white poster-board making ants very visible. Here are a few things that I learnt:
  1. Their nest is about a 3 minute ant walk from my office. I know this because from the time the first ant noticed food it took about six minutes before he returned and a few ants ventured out attempting to follow the first ant's trail.
  2. Ants like things they can chew quickly, like reeses peanut butter cups, not things that are harder to chew like hershey's milk chocolate. This "like" manifests itself rather indirectly as follows:
    -Food chewed off quickly allows each ant return faster to the nest, bringing out more ants at a much faster rate than food chewed slowly.
  3. These ants do not follow their trails very closely. Since the food source is very spread out, it makes sense for the ants to diverge a bit from their trails in order to get more food. Army ants (the kinds that can make ant mills) target more precise areas and so need to follow their trails very closely.
  4. These ants cannot swim. This is great because it means that my ant-moat works! (see photo). I will next try to make a dry version of ant protection so that I don't need to keep cleaning out the dead ants every week.

Now I will show you two videos
This is an ant mill, where the ants follow their scent in a circle. Warning: in the words of a reddit commenter it seems that the cameraman developed spontaneous Parkinsons before taking it. Also, these are probably army ants in this video.

With this one the cinematography is great, but the commentary and soundtrack are ridiculous ... extremely ridiculous. You would think you were watching a special on UFO's. He calls the ant colony a "city state." That said, it is amazing how complex things can be built with collaboration among stupid agents following stupid rules.


  1. “It turns out that Aptima has a clause in its employee handbook explicitly prohibiting employees from fostering ant mills...”

    It turns out that hiring Yoni has necessitated a complete rewriting of the Aptima employee handbook.

  2. It will not be the first time that we've caused a rewrite of similar handbooks...

  3. You must be thinking of your contribution to the Kushner guidelines rewrite.

  4. I think we have to see these guidelines. Perhaps, there is still a loophole...