[Paleopsych] Repulsion cues in ants

HowlBloom at aol.com HowlBloom at aol.com
Mon Nov 28 05:52:05 UTC 2005

In his 1978 book Life Strategies, Valerius Geist, a charter member of this  
group, wrote that all animal communication boils down to two words, yes and no, 
 to two sort of signals, attraction cues and repulsion cues.  
Meanwhile, in his work during the 1990s with bacteria, Eshel  Ben-Jacob  
discovered that the same positive and negative signals  appeared on the 
microscopic level, where bacteria also issue attraction and  repulsion signals, chemical 
come-hithers and chemical stay aways.
When Pavel Kurakin and I started work on a joint project about quantum  
partilcles a year or more ago, Pavel was hoping I could give him an example of  
attraction and repulsion cues among ants.  I couldn't.  There were  equivalent 
signals among bees.  But ants, from what I knew of the  literature, had just one 
chemical semaphore--come hither.  They made do on  just attraction cues.
Nonetheless the leap that Pavel was making, the inference that  ants, too, 
had attraction and repulsion cues, seemed a good one.  But was  it true?  New 
data seem to indicate that, in fact, Pavel's inference was on  target.  Ants 
have more than come-over-here-and-check-this-out  signals.  Their chemical, 
pheromonal language also lets them give each  other repulsion cues.  It lets them 
tell others to shun this place and stay  away.
Here's the confirmation of what springs from the work of Val Geist and  Eshel 
Ben-Jacob, this time cropping up among ants.  Howard
Retrieved November 27,  2005, from the World Wide Web  
http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20051126/fob4.asp Science News  Online  Week of Nov. 26, 2005; 
Vol.  168, No. 22 Unway Sign: Ant pheromone stops traffic  Susan Milius  
Researchers say that they've discovered  a new kind of traffic sign on ant highways—
a chemical "Do not enter" that lets  the insects avoid wasting time on paths 
that don't lead to food.  a6763_1188.jpg  COMMUTERS' CHOICE. Ants follow 
chemical  paths that increase traffic toward known food bonanzas and avoid thankless 
 journeys. Robinson  Ant science has  for decades focused on chemical 
attractants that define trails, says Elva J.H.  Robinson of the University of  
Sheffield in  England.  However, the new tests give evidence of a repellent 
pheromone, which hasn't yet  been identified, she and her colleagues report in the 
Nov. 24 Nature.  "Nobody believed that such a thing  existed," says Robinson.  
There has  certainly been resistance to the idea over the years, says Nigel 
Franks of the  University of  Bristol in  England. In the  1990s, he and his 
colleagues mathematically modeled ant trails. Complementing  attractants with a 
hypothetical repellent to block useless trails in a model  system "vastly 
increased its efficiency," he says, but other scientists' reviews  of that model were 
"scathing."  Robinson says that she wasn't thinking about repellents when she 
started  her laboratory experiments on foraging trails in pharaoh's ants 
(Monomorium  pharaonis). "We got some quite unexpected results," she says. Some of 
the ants  started zigzagging or doing U-turns when approaching a trail that 
only Robinson  knew didn't lead to food. "It looked as if ants had suddenly 
developed psychic  abilities," she says.  She and her  colleagues set up 
two-pronged, paper-covered platforms where ants could forage.  One setup had a feeder 
on one prong but no food on the other. After ants had  used it for a while, 
the researchers moved the paper from the no-food prong to  one prong of a 
different platform that had previously had a working ant trail  and feeder on each 
prong. The researchers put a neutral piece of paper—one from  an area of the 
ants' lab home that had no trail—on the second prong, which had  also carried a 
feeder.  Of the ants  in the new setup that came to the fork and made a 
choice, some 70 percent  avoided the branch with the paper from the no-food prong. 
Something on the paper  must have turned away traffic, the researchers 
concluded.  The prong's paper was most repellent  near the fork. Also, the ants often 
changed course some 15 body lengths before  the fork.  Chemical ecologist 
David  Morgan of Keele  University in  England says  that biologists "just haven't 
really looked" for negative pheromones on ant  trails, but the new paper 
"might now start a great flood of interest."  As for do-not-enter signs in other 
ant  species, "I would be very shocked indeed if they didn't find them," says  
Franks.  If you have a comment on  this article that you would like considered 
for publication in Science News,  send it to editors at sciencenews.org. Please 
include your name and location.  References:  Robinson, E.J., et al. 2005. 'No 
entry'  signal in ant foraging. Nature 438(Nov. 24):442.  Further  Readings:  
Milius, S. 2004. Road rage keeps ants  moving smoothly. Science News 
165(March 20):190. Available to subscribers at  
http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20040320/note16.asp.  ______. 2002. Ant traffic flow: Raiding  swarms with few 
rules avoid gridlock. Science News 163(Dec. 21):388. Available  to subscribers 
at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20021221/fob3.asp.  For more on 
Pharaoh's ants, go to  
http://www.shef.ac.uk/aps/mbiolsci/stuart-hutchinson/pharaore-ant.html.  Sources:  Nigel Franks  School of  Biological Sciences  University 
of Bristol Woodland Road  Bristol BS8 1UG United Kingdom  E. David Morgan 
Chemical Ecology Group  Lennard-Jones Laboratory School of  Chemistry and Physics  
Keele University Staffordshire ST5 5BG United  Kingdom  Elva Robinson 
Department of  Animal and Plant Sciences Sheffield University  Western Bank Sheffield 
S10 2TN United Kingdom  http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20051126/fob4.asp 
 From Science News, Vol. 168, No. 22,  Nov. 26, 2005, p. 340.  Copyright (c) 
2005 Science Service. All  rights reserved. 
Howard Bloom
Author of The Lucifer Principle: A  Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of 
History and Global Brain: The Evolution  of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 
21st Century
Recent Visiting  Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; 
Core Faculty  Member, The Graduate  Institute
Founder:  International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic 
of Evolution  Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The 
Big Bang Tango  Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American 
Association for the  Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, 
Academy of Political  Science, Advanced Technology Working Group, Human Behavior 
and Evolution  Society, International Society for Human Ethology; advisory 
board member:  Institute for Accelerating Change ; executive editor -- New 
Paradigm book  series.
For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see:  
for two chapters from 
The Lucifer Principle: A  Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History, 
see  www.howardbloom.net/lucifer
For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of  Mass Mind from the Big 
Bang to the 21st Century, see  www.howardbloom.net

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