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STUDY: Ants adapt tool use to avoid drowning

Tool use is seen as an indicator of cognitive sophistication. The findings suggest that ants and other social insects may have considerable high cognitive capabilities.

BRITISH ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY: A laboratory experiment has shown for the first time that a species of ant has the remarkable ability to adapt its tool use. When provided with small containers of sugar water, black imported fire ants were able to float and feed on the surface, but when researchers reduced the surface tension, the ants started depositing sand grains on the inside of the container leading out of it…

Researchers have observed black imported fire ants using sand to draw liquid food out of containers, when faced with the risk of drowning. This is the first time this sophisticated tool use has been reported in animals… The sand structures were found to be so efficient that they could syphon almost half of the sugar water out of the containers in five minutes…

The results not only demonstrate black imported fire ants’ ability to use tools to forage but also that they can recognise an increased foraging risk and can adjust their tool use in response to this… Tool use is seen as an indicator of cognitive sophistication and has mostly been observed in primates and some species of birds. But in invertebrates this behaviour is less well studied and has previously been thought of as hard wired and inflexible…

Dr Jian Chen, Research Entomologist at The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Stoneville Mississippi, and another author of the research, said: “We knew some ant species are able to use tools, particularly in collecting liquid food; however, we were surprised by such remarkable tool use displayed by black imported fire ants. Our findings suggest that ants and other social insects may have considerable high cognitive capabilities for unique foraging strategies.”  SOURCE…

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