A 'nervous system' for ant colonies? Colony responds to predation simulation as a 'superorganism'

November 11, 2015, University of Bristol
Researchers at the University of Bristol, UK, led by Thomas O'Shea-Wheller, investigated the extent to which colonies of rock ants behave as a single entity by subjecting colonies of migrating ants to differing forms of simulated predator attack. Credit: Thomas O'Shea-Wheller

Colonies of ants are incredibly complex, and at the same time intensely cooperative, so much so that they are often referred to as single 'superorganisms'. But to what extent do they actually behave as a single entity?

In order to answer this question, researchers from the University of Bristol subjected colonies of migrating to differing forms of simulated predator attack.

By targeting ants scouting at the periphery of colony activity, and workers within the very heart of the nest, they were able to show very different responses to predation depending on its location.

When scouts were removed, the foraging 'arms' of the colony were retracted back into the nest. However, when ants were removed from within the nest itself, the whole colony absconded, seeking asylum in a new location.

While the first of these scenarios could be seen as akin to burning your hand on a stove, the second is more of a 'house-on-fire' scare, and in each case the ants responded appropriately.

Researchers at the University of Bristol, UK, led by Thomas O'Shea-Wheller, investigated the extent to which colonies of rock ants behave as a single entity by subjecting colonies of migrating ants to differing forms of simulated predator attack. Credit: University of Bristol, UK

Thomas O'Shea-Wheller, a PhD student in Bristol's School of Biological Sciences and one of the authors of the study, said: "Our results draw parallels with the nervous systems of single organisms, in that they allow appropriate, location dependent, responses to damage, and suggest that just as we may respond to cell damage via pain, respond to loss of workers via group awareness."

Researchers at the University of Bristol, UK, led by Thomas O'Shea-Wheller, investigated the extent to which colonies of rock ants behave as a single entity by subjecting colonies of migrating ants to differing forms of simulated predator attack. Credit: University of Bristol, UK

Explore further: Ants have different 'standards' when it comes to choosing a home

More information: 'Differentiated Anti-Predation Responses in A Superorganism' Thomas A. O'Shea-Wheller, Ana B. Sendova-Franks and Nigel R. Franks, PLOS ONE, 2015. dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0141012

Related Stories

Field study shows group decision making not always the best

August 1, 2013

(Phys.org) —A combined team of researchers from Arizona State University and Uppsala University in Sweden has found that collective decision making by ants doesn't always result in selecting the best option for adopting ...

Butterfly larvae mimic queen ant to avoid detection

April 9, 2014

Parasitic butterfly larvae may mimic ants' acoustic signals to aid in the infiltration of their host colonies, according to results published April 9, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Marco Sala from University ...

Recommended for you

How our cellular antennas are formed

January 17, 2019

Most of our cells contain an immobile primary cilium, an antenna used to transfer information from the surrounding environment. Some cells also have many mobile cilia that are used to generate movement. The 'skeleton' of ...

Individual lichens can have up to three fungi, study shows

January 17, 2019

Individual lichens may contain up to three different fungi, according to new research from an international team of researchers. This evidence provides new insight into another recent discovery that showed lichen are made ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3.7 / 5 (25) Nov 11, 2015
Is there a link between the nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled behavior of microbes to the behavior of ants via what is currently known about biophysically constrained RNA-mediated protein folding chemistry and supercoiled DNA?

Alternatively, is there a link from mutations to evolution of the behaviors in species from microbes to man that could also be linked to supercoiled DNA.
5 / 5 (3) Nov 11, 2015
Phase IV is about to begin.

Do ants flirt?
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 11, 2015
Note that single organisms also have diversity and conflict in responses and so are not perfectly uniform or 'singular' in their responses. Indeed, consciousness could be described as being like the behaviour of an ant colony with no central thinking part (no singular central homunculus).
3.5 / 5 (22) Nov 11, 2015
Note that "Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model" exemplifies how "...CHEMICAL ECOLOGY DRIVES ADAPTIVE EVOLUTION VIA: (1) ecological niche construction, (2) social niche construction, (3) neurogenic niche construction, and (4) socio-cognitive niche construction. This model exemplifies the epigenetic effects of olfactory/pheromonal conditioning, which alters genetically predisposed, nutrient-dependent, hormone-driven mammalian behavior and choices for pheromones that control reproduction..." http://www.ncbi.n...24693353

The model links atoms to ecosystems and consciousness via everything known to serious scientists about physics, chemistry, and biology, which links microRNAs and adhesion proteins to the supercoiled DNA that protects organized genomes from virus-driven entropy.

See for a fun representation of what was revealed by the octopus genome sequencing.
2.2 / 5 (20) Nov 11, 2015
Jvk's model destroyed:

"Based on his writings, both published and unpublished, James Kohl presents an unsupported challenge to modern evolutionary theory and misrepresentations of established scientific terms and others' research."
3.4 / 5 (23) Nov 11, 2015
Editor's note
The 2013 review article by James Vaughn Kohl published in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology and criticized in the above Letter to the Editor was subjected to standard peer review and the revised version was accepted by me after it had been accepted by both reviewers.

Models published in peer-reviewed journals are not destroyed by the criticisms of biologically uninformed science idiots like Andrew Jones.

One need only search google for "RNA mediated" to see the overwhelming support for my model of nutrient-dependent amino acid substitutions that link ecological variation to ecological adaptation via cell type differentiation in all individuals of all living genera via what is currently known about physics, chemistry, and the conserved molecular mechanisms that link the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA.

4.3 / 5 (3) Nov 11, 2015
Phase IV is about to begin.

Do ants flirt?

OMG!!! Does any one remember that movie? Wow; you, me, and my old rock climbing buddy are the only people I've ever met that know what Phase IV is about. +5 to you dude.

2.1 / 5 (21) Nov 11, 2015
ScholarAbout 3,150,000 results (0.06 se

Not a mention of James V. Kohl.
3.4 / 5 (23) Nov 11, 2015
See below: RNA-Mediated | Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Molecular Epigenetics is my domain.


1) RNA-mediated gene silencing - UniProt
Protein involved in RNA-mediated gene silencing. This term describes a number of related processes which use 21- to 25-nucleotide RNAs to repress the ...

2) RNA-mediated epigenetic regulation of gene expression ...
by D Holoch - ‎2015 - ‎Cited by 36 - ‎Related articles
Jan 2, 2015 - RNA interference (RNAi) is used broadly to refer to various RNA silencing pathways that use small RNAs, together with a member of the ...

3) RNA-Mediated | Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Molecular ...
Here you will find information that links physics, chemistry, and molecular epigenetics via RNA-mediated events such as the de novo creation of olfactory ...

3 / 5 (9) Nov 12, 2015
OMG!!! Does any one remember that movie?

Sure. One of the more creepy (and fascinating) ones of the schlock-sci-fi-movie era. The ant photography was quite amazing (and the acting quite horrible).
Captain Stumpy
2.2 / 5 (20) Nov 13, 2015

this site is personally owned by the creationist kohl for the express purpose of spreading pseudoscience and mixing religion with his perfume and pheromones

This site will steal personal data and has redirects to other sites that are also personally owned to kohl

this is also continually spammed and cross-posted on various threads from kohl


Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (19) Nov 13, 2015
@ the following:Zephir socks

uprating pseudoscience doesn't make the posts any more legitimate...

downrating actual science doesn't refute it or in any way prove it wrong

just because you can create a sock army proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you have absolutely no basis in science or any ability to argue any scientific points

reported (and added to the continually growing list of your sock army)
5 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2015
To yank a joke further, Phase 4 was the ultimate good Bad-movie. One of the best most entertaining bad-acting movies I've ever seen. I do have a healthy respect for ants though and if you've ever had to deal with fire ant's your really begin to understand them quickly. As a kid growing up in SW of KS, 4th of July was exciting, because with nothing to do in SW of KS, you would buy fire crackers and go blow up ant-hill mounds. The ant mounds were these piles of encrusted sand a foot to 2 foot tall (big ones up to 3). You would stick the firecrackers into the side of them and blow out a hole! What fun when 1000's of ants would rush into the 4 to 6" crater. It was really amazing how they would collectively act. However, you soon learned at you had better get away quick or else suffer the bites of 100s of the little devils. There is nothing funnier than having to strip to your shorts to pick off a few dozen fire ants that will actually draw blood from their bites. Q PhaseIV.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.