The ants were able to find the shortest route from one end of the maze to the other in under an hour, then were able to adapt and find the second shortest route when obstacles were put in their path.
These findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, deepen our understanding of how even simple animals can overcome complex and dynamic problems in nature, and will help computer scientists develop even better software to solve logistical problems and maximise efficiency in many human industries.
Using a novel technique, Chris Reid and Associate Professor Madeleine Beekman from the School of Biological Sciences, working with Professor David Sumpter of Uppsala University, Sweden, tested whether Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) could solve a dynamic optimisation problem by converting the classic Towers of Hanoi maths puzzle into a maze.
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