By Wendy Langhans
Have you ever played the game “Hide the Thimble”? It was one of my Grandmother’s favorite parlor games, one she often used to entertain her visiting grandchildren. The “IT” child was sent out of the room, while one of us hid her thimble in plain sight. Then “IT” was invited back into the room to hunt for the thimble. As the hunt began, the “Hider” called out, “Your getting warmer (or colder)”, the closer (or further) “IT” got to the thimble. Meanwhile, the rest of us would giggle, chuckle and laugh out loud as our cousins walked around the room looking puzzled.
Now, imagine a new game, where the stakes are higher. Suppose you were an ant (an insect, not a visiting relative). You were out and about, foraging for food. And now you wanted to return to your nest. How would you find it?
Worldwide, there are approximately 20,000 species of ants. They have developed a number of navigational methods, including pheremone scent markers (the equivalent of a breadcrumb trail), visual landmarks and even celestial navigation. But in general, an ant needs two pieces of information to navigate back to the nest: (1) an internal compass that measures position relative to the nest and (2) a way of measuring the distance travelled.
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In 2006, researchers studying ants in Tunisia conducted an interesting experiment: “Food was placed about 33 feet (10 meters) from an ant nest. When ants found the food the researchers collected the insects before they had time to carry it back to the nest.” They put some ants on stilts (pig bristles glued to their legs) and others on stumps (by amputating their leg segments). Then they measured the return distance travelled. They discovered that those on stilts, with longer legs and longer strides, travelled past the nest, while those on stumps, with shorter legs and strides, stopped before the nest. They concluded that the ants were somehow keeping track of the number of steps they took. In other words, they used the equivalent of a pedometer.
I don’t suppose those ants back at the nest were calling out “you’re getting warmer” to the ants approaching on stilts. Or giggling as they shot past the nest. But I can’t help but wonder if that would have made a difference. After all, ants do communicate with each other.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, June 18, 8 – 10 AM. Early Morning Bird Hike at Towsley Canyon. Meet at the Towsley Canyon front parking lot. For directions and trail maps, click here.
Saturday, July 3, 7:30 – 9:30 PM, Moonlight Stroll at Towsley Canyon. Wander the trails under our nearly full moon. Uncover which plants and animals are adapted to this transition time and maybe even see a few elusive nocturnal animals. Meet at the Towsley Canyon front parking lot. For directions and trail maps, click here.
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, June 1, 8, 15, 22, 29.
Saturday mornings, June 11 & 25.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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