Forget swarms of nanobots taking over the world—if something is going to band together to rise against humans, my money is on ants. Look at this video of them forming a chain to move something way bigger than any individual ant. Humans, faced with the same task, would probably devolve into trying to invent some kind of drone to do this for them.
To find out what’s going on here, I sent the video to Terry McGlynn, an entomologist at California State University at Dominguez Hills. “Okay, here’s the deal,” he wrote to me in an email. “This video, somewhere from Southeast Asia, shows a species of Leptogenys ants pulling along a large prey item (sure looks like a millipede) in a very long daisy chain, like they’re doing a tug of war.”
McGlynn says that what’s surprising about this video is that it’s a particular kind of behavior that ant experts haven’t seen before. It’s not that they haven’t seen ants work together to carry stuff or do things—there are all kinds of ways that ants band together to move or make things—but rather that they haven’t seen anything quite like this. The daisy-chain system you see in this video is new to them.
Helen McCreery, a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, recently published a paper on all kinds of cooperative transport strategies in ants. In it she explains that at least 40 genera of ants work together to transport things, from two ants grasping something together to weaver ant workers who band together to “collectively carry birds, bats and snakes vertically up tree trunks.”