Latest in Science

Image credit:

Ants run on tiny treadmills to help track their behavior

The machines had to be custom-built for the insects.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
February 21, 2017
Share
Tweet
Share

Sponsored Links

Matthias Wittlinger/Ulm University

It's relatively easy to study animals' movement by plunking them on treadmills, but how do you do that with a creature as small and fragile as ants? Build a tiny custom treadmill, that's how. Scientists have crafted a contraption that let them study the homing behavior of ants on a treadmill for the first time. In many ways, it amounts to an optical mouse flipped on its back. An air-cushioned styrofoam ball serves as the actual running surface, giving the ant freedom to move as far as the tether (dental floss) allows without falling off; optical sensors from computer mice track their gait, speed and changes in direction.

The actual treadmill run revealed new insights into how ants behave. It confirmed existing techniques that ant use to get back to their nest, such as counting their strides and using the Sun's position as a guide. However, it also revealed that lost ants jump into a search pattern where they slow down and loop around until they have some sign of where to go.

While the machine was designed for a specific test, it's easy to see the broader possibilities. This should be useful for experiments where researchers want to study insects in controlled conditions without imposing too many restrictions on the critters in question. While ants and other species frequently act as collectives, this could shed a lot of light on what they do when they're on their own.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Comment
Comments
Share
Tweet
Share

Popular on Engadget

The 2020 Engadget Holiday Gift Guide

The 2020 Engadget Holiday Gift Guide

View
'Marvel's Avengers' hasn't turned a profit yet

'Marvel's Avengers' hasn't turned a profit yet

View
The best microSD card, SSD and other storage deals we found for Black Friday

The best microSD card, SSD and other storage deals we found for Black Friday

View
The best TV deals we could find for Black Friday

The best TV deals we could find for Black Friday

View
Amazon cuts the price of its Fire HD Tablets in the run-up to Black Friday

Amazon cuts the price of its Fire HD Tablets in the run-up to Black Friday

View

From around the web

Page 1Page 1ear iconeye iconFill 23text filevr