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What Ants Can Teach Us

“We put a lot of effort into thinking through how to organize some of the things that we try to do as groups,” said Gordon. “Ants don't put in any effort at all. They're pretty messy about it, and it works really well.”

…Of course, ants don't just create farms; they make assembly lines, highways and even underground cities.

“You get a variety of different sizes of workers with different shapes. And they're all built specifically to do certain tasks or jobs. So they are born with this identity,” said Moffett.”

There are soldiers, nurses, sanitation specialists, highway construction workers.

There are actually “suicide bomber” ants. “The ant simply walks up to the enemy and explodes – spraying this toxic yellow glue over itself and everything around it,” Moffett said. “That's right out of sci-fi. It doesn't even need any TNT. It just has it built into its body.”

With behavior this “human-like,” they must be pretty smart, right?

No, according to Deborah Gordon, professor of biology at Stanford: “Ants are not smart. In fact, if you watch an ant for any length of time, you're gonna end up wanting to help it, because ants are really very inept.

“But colonies are smart. So what's amazing about ants is that in the aggregate, all of these inept creatures accomplish amazing feats as colonies,” she said.

And according to Gordon, they do it all without a boss.

“In an ant colony, there's nobody in charge. There are no bureaucrats. There are no foremen. There are no managers. There is nobody telling anybody what to do,” she said.

Wait a minute? Don't ant colonies have queens?

“The queen does not give rules,” explained Moffett. “She does not make proclamations. She just sits there and lays eggs. Being the queen would be the most boring job in the ant society.” …

Continue Reading to learn how ants helped Southwest decide the optimal way of boarding a plane