Why barcode labels need to be glued to ants…

May 21, 2013
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barcode labelYes, well that title got you reading the blog this week. We have covered some pretty quirky topics on the Tanto blog over the years but glueing barcode labels to ants  has to be the most off the wall yet. In fact it even seems a little bit cruel if not intensely frustrating to facilitate. The fact is an ant is 50 times stronger than you (even though it appears to have silly little spindly legs), it can in fact lift 50 times its own weight. So a barcode label is a breeze to a powerful little ant. But why on earth would you want to glue a barcode label to an ant?

Barcode Labels used for furthering scientific knowledge

We have reported how barcode labels are now being used in medicine, and also in funeral parlours to help the grieving access information about the deceased. Well, now they are being used in the world of science to access information about the complex social systems of our insect cousins.

Micro barcodes

First of all, we are not talking about normal sized barcode labels here. These are tiny micro barcodes that fit neatly onto the back of the ant (see pic). Researchers did not give any real information about how they managed to fix each one – that must remain one of the wonders of science.

Great research results

The fact is the amount of information gleaned from the research is stunning. Scientists now know:

  • Worker ants divide into three main groups: one that forages food; one that tends the young; and one that cleans the nest
  • Every nest has a queen ant who reproduces. but contrary to early belief she does not lead or organize
  • Group divisions in colonies are based on age rather than gender. Younger ants tend to look after the young while older ants forage
  • Ants communicate via scents and through their antennae touching.

Extraordinary. Now you know. These little insects certainly manage complex tasks and social formations. Lets hope they don’t think of setting up their own retail franchise too soon.

 

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