From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm

From The New York Times:

Ants If you have ever observed ants marching in and out of a nest, you might have been reminded of a highway buzzing with traffic. To Iain D. Couzin, such a comparison is a cruel insult — to the ants. Americans spend a 3.7 billion hours a year in congested traffic. But you will never see ants stuck in gridlock. Army ants, which Dr. Couzin has spent much time observing in Panama, are particularly good at moving in swarms. If they have to travel over a depression in the ground, they erect bridges so that they can proceed as quickly as possible.

“They build the bridges with their living bodies,” said Dr. Couzin, a mathematical biologist at Princeton University and the University of Oxford. “They build them up if they’re required, and they dissolve if they’re not being used.” The reason may be that the ants have had a lot more time to adapt to living in big groups. “We haven’t evolved in the societies we currently live in,” Dr. Couzin said. By studying army ants — as well as birds, fish, locusts and other swarming animals — Dr. Couzin and his colleagues are starting to discover simple rules that allow swarms to work so well. Those rules allow thousands of relatively simple animals to form a collective brain able to make decisions and move like a single organism.

More here.