Are ant colonies ‘smarter’ than Google?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

ant intelligence
All it takes is one ant to get the intelligence network going.

Ants might seem like silly little specks that scurry around frantically in search of food before vanishing into a hole, but they’re actually quite brilliant. See, not only do they have the largest brains of any insect, but ants can form a highly complex communication network when they discover food.

Among all the creepy crawlers that buzz, hop, and… well… crawl, only a rare few are considered to be “social insects” by entomologists (bug scientists). Wasps, bees, termites, and ants are classified as social insects because they meet four characteristics: a common nest site, individuals cooperating in caring for the young, dividing up jobs in a way that grows the community, and young workers helping the colony while the parents are still alive. So, given how sophisticated an ant colony is, how exactly does one lone ant get everyone to follow his lead when he finds a hunk of stale bread in the park?

Well, he releases a trail of chemicals called pheromones, and when the ant returns home, a wave of his buddies try to follow the chemical path back. However, the pheromones fade away quickly, which is why ants can look kind of disorganized sometimes. Little by little, as more ants get involved in the search, they release more and more pheromones that attract even more helpers. Soon, the ants develop a network of shortcuts that ultimately lead to the shortest possible path between the food and their nest. Suddenly, what was chaos moments ago self-corrects into a highly intelligent and efficient network!

Google, like ants, searches for information on the internet, crawling the web to bring data back to the company’s servers. There, the information is crunched down and analyzed, where complicated step-by-step rules called “algorithms” calculate the shortest path to your desired search. When you type in “funny cat videos” into Google, for example, a process takes place that is apparently much less efficient at organizing information than an ant colony, according to recent studies!

Featured image courtesy of OliBac on Flickr. Image of ant courtesy of Budzlife on Flickr.