Ants show left bias when exploring new spaces

Ants show left bias when exploring new spaces
Credit: Edmund Hunt, University of Bristol

Unlike Derek Zoolander, ants don't have any difficulty turning left. New research from the University of Bristol, UK published today in Biology Letters, has found that the majority of rock ants instinctively go left when entering unknown spaces.

PhD student Edmund Hunt and colleagues studied how Temnothorax albipennis ants explore nest cavities and negotiate through branching mazes.

They found that ants were significantly more likely to turn left than right when exploring new nests. Such left bias was also present when the ants were put in branching mazes, though this bias was initially obscured by wall-following behaviour.

So why do the majority of turn left when entering unknown spaces?

Edmund Hunt said: "The ants may be using their left eye to detect predators and their right to navigate. Also, their world is maze-like and consistently turning one way is a very good strategy to search and exit mazes.

"Furthermore, as their nest-mates are left-leaning too, there should also be safety in numbers. Consistent turning may also help the ants to monitor nest mates during house hunting. So perhaps leaning left is more shrewd than sinister."

Around ten percent of people are left-handed and brain lateralization is widespread in other vertebrates. There's also increasing evidence for sensory and motor asymmetries in the behaviour of invertebrates, but evidence for lateral biases in is relatively limited.

Behavioural lateralization in invertebrates is an important field of study because it may provide insights into the early origins of lateralization seen in a diversity of organisms, the researchers said.

Explore further

How ants investigate the housing market when searching for their ideal home

More information: Ants show a leftward turning bias when exploring unknown nest sites, Hunt ER, O'Shea-Wheller T, Albery GF, Bridger TH, Gumn M, Franks NR. Biology Letters, rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rsbl.2014.0945
Journal information: Biology Letters

Citation: Ants show left bias when exploring new spaces (2014, December 23) retrieved 18 September 2019 from
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Dec 24, 2014
One of my pet theories posits a preferential spatial/temporal lateralisation between hemispheres - a division of labour exploiting bilateral symmetry to optimise the delineation of spatial and temporal information components for parallel co-processing.

So maybe these ants have a right-brain dominance for spatial maps...

Dec 24, 2014
Wondering what the frequency of left choice over right occurred....

Dec 25, 2014
Well they drive on the left side of the road in UK so why wouldn't the ants go left? Obviously there is a need to study ants from different geographical regions. Ants are also communal - so there is the political left thing as well.

Dec 28, 2014
Calling them commies seems a little extreme - they have queens, and also exhibit collective intelligence (democracy) so they're obviously constitutional monarchists. The turning left thing is probably an ancient custom honouring a royal dictate.

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