I was scrutinising ants today and noticed that a bird’s eye view of Bombay would look quite similar. These ants were probably shifting colonies because numerous ants were carrying silky white pods. There were neat lines – workers were ferrying forward, informers were travelling up and down the length of the brigade, explorers were meandering in search of more efficient paths.
I decided to play God. The Hand of God sprinkled a fair amount of chalk in the path of the marching ants. Ants are mostly blind. They navigate by using their sensitive antennae to pick up ‘scents’ laid down by other ants. By sprinkling chalk in their path I had effectively caused a landslide on a mountain road – the ants would not be able to smell their comrades across the divide. There was chaos! The train of ants had come to a stand still while even more joined the queue. From my Godly Vantage Point it was easy to see that the path would be found again if a few brave ants were to bandy about the area. This did eventually happen but the ripple effect caused by my actions was more interesting. In a way, I observed communication travel up and down the length of the brigade. Ants further down the line were informed to stay in place because the line up ahead had come to a stand still. After a while the ants further ahead started retracing their steps in order to find an alternate route. This caused the line to thicken around the middle as ants travelled backwards. Meanwhile, a sliver of ants continued moving forwards and bandied about until they finally found their way around the chalk. News travelled down the line at lightning speed and normal operation continued soon thereafter.
Introspection over dinner yielded interesting thoughts although there were no revelations. For the most part, I thought about the efficiency that humans could achieve if we formed a hive mind similar to the ants. Then I became cognizant of the fact that humans are indeed herd animals. Travel in crowded public transport and you will know what I speak. It is incredible how quickly people pick up on body language. Not a single word needs to be said while travelling in the trains of Bombay – communication is almost completely non-verbal. This led to questions about whether ants observe pleasantries before exchanging gossip from around the colony.
Here is a random video of some ants. Can you see them talking?