Swarm insights: Bees and ant colonies follow the principle of harmony

Bees on flowers
They say bees are miraculous creatures. All plants, animals and human beings owe to the bees. Without them we would be extinct. ‘They exist for a reason’ says Melisa our guest author. Her post is below. Image credit: Pixabay

Ants are incredibly hardworking and full of enthusiasm. They are ready for anything for the sake of their collectivities and are a model of an industry for lazy humanity. However, it is a quite one-sided view of the life of insects. Up to 40% of the animal units in their collective are not busy doing something useful. They give the impression of the working process being no principles at all.

Bees swarming at a Beekeeper or Apiarist’s box. A movable box or a honey comb is constructed so that the honey can be harvested without disturbing the entire bee colony. Notice the buzz sound of the honey bees. Video credit: Pixabay

A combined collectivity of scientists-entomologists from Arizona University and Oxford studied an unusual enough thing, unbelievable laziness, and egoism of ants.

Among a huge variety of social insects such as bees, ants or wasps the major part of the colonies lives in accordance with the principle far from hard working. Up to 40% of ants do not work for the lifetime or almost lifetime just wandering around.

Under the direction of Arizonian entomologist, Daniel Charbonneau researchers created an artificial environment for ants. It was easy to follow their movements and work. Every insect was marked with a color marker pen, which made it to where insects were easy to follow and no confusion could be made between them.

Researchers have studied 20 colonies of Temnothorax rugatulus kind of ants for several months and came to the startling conclusions. First of all, many of them do not really work. Secondly, there are truly many of such animal units and all the colony should feed them just because.

The main thing is that they exist for a reason. Taking away active and lazy ants, researchers could make sure that the hardworking ants were replaced with lazy ones at once. In other words, all these 40% of parasites is something like an employment office, ant colony labor power store, which is always ready, standby just having a rest most of the time-saving strength.

Besides that, ants spongers are a genetic capital of the kind. Thus, being lazy does not mean being useless. Calm yourself down thinking this way every time you feel like procrastinating and leaving it to someone else. We all are not spongers at this moment but a proud genetic capital and source of power for big achievements.

At long last, ants are 130 millions of years old and as long as they are still alive, there is something to learn from them.

There are space vehicles, people learned how to fight diseases, which got them frightened before. Despite the amazing achievements, there is still something to strive for. If to speak about bees, these insects have lots of skills and abilities.

There are more than a million of insects but bees and silkworms are useful for humanity. Beekeeping products are consumed as food, used in medicine and for cosmetics production. All the assets of the insects fancifully interweave between each other and as a result of concerted efforts, a required result comes out.

The principle of Harmony

Ants in harmony
Ants in harmony. Image credit: Pixabay

Bees are truly hard working. They work all the time gathering nectar from flowers where all the power of the plants is located. In order to gather one drop of nectar, the insect should spray a thousand of flowers with insecticide dust and overcome a lot of kilometers. Meanwhile, other bees make honey out of the nectar turning sucrose into simple carbohydrates, which are digested by a human body down to the ground.

Have you read?

1. Do ants have brains ? Yes collective intelligence
2. How ant swarms read symbolic information using collective intelligence
3. The symbiotic relationships of coral reefs- A model social network

If to choose one quality, it would probably be a self-organization. Every separate bee knows very well what and when it is to do something. Moreover, she is in worries in case of any obstacles appearing on her way.

Each separately taken insect is able to do any work within the community. This is why during its rather short lifetime, every bee does only that piece of work she is meant to do and the most important at the time. If there are reasons, which make changes to the normal rhythm of a family, such as bad weather or wrong actions by a beekeeper, she reacts immediately and stops gathering nectar. In such a case, an insect brings up young animal units preparing them for swarming.

A bee does not work for herself but due to neighbor principle. Until it is ready to be consumed, the bee is dead. She lives about 30 days in the summer while almost 2 months are needed for honey to be ready. If there is not enough food in the beehive, any bee would share, any bee would give away the final drop of honey and die just to save another. In case there is more than enough, no bee would eat more. Everything will be laid in store.

Bees follow the principle of harmony. Everything they do is admirable. All the insects deserved respect for the hive mind. They are also known for unique memory. After wintering, they buzz a beehive in order to memorize its location. They use different landmarks. Going to gather nectar, a bee is to memorize all the route just as well in order to get back home. A human is unable to memorize that much of details a bee with its tiny brain is.

Also, bees are very good at mathematics completing the most difficult tasks. Scientists found out that bees always find the shortest distance between the flowers at the smallest energy consumption. This task is highly important for Internet work, micro, at town transport network calculation and freight transportation routes. Computers solve these tasks making heavy calculations while it takes few moments only for bees.

The author, Melisa Marzett works for Getessayeditor. Find her profile below.

How ant swarms read symbolic information using collective intelligence

An ant from ant swarms
‘An ant on duty’ – Ants in ant swarms just switch tasks and no one tells them when and how to. There is no planning. This collective and adaptive social behavior has huge potential in energy efficient engineering and scientific applications. Adaptive robotics is one big area. I drew the above sketch. It is open for interpretation.

An individual ant may not be intelligent but a colony of ants is. A typical ant colony consists of millions of ants and they all move and act as one. In fact they become an intelligent super-organism all bundled into a ‘super one’.

Researchers say that such intelligence is an emergent property of collective intelligence. Intelligence itself involves the rational processing and perception of symbolic information. Human consciousness has extraordinary processing power. Simply put, our intelligence stems from accessing that internal and external information that emerges from this processing power. It is a great mystery.

Ant swarms and for that matter, almost all animals seem to access this external information collectively as one.

For example, ant swarms know when to keep the nests warm and do coordinated foraging for food without somebody telling them.

Ants leave a pheromone trail that other ants seem to pick it up and do specific tasks unquestioned like the above. Nevertheless, this does not explain everything. Clearly, there is no single leader ant among them.

Ants seem to pass this symbolic information from one ant to another interpreting them in such a way to produce remarkable behavioral patterns for the collective benefit of the entire ant colony.

Have you seen it? If yes, then please send your comments.

A single neuron in the human brain does something only when it connects to other neurons. In addition, all (80 Billion odd neurons) collectively do something to become – you and me.

This has a striking resemblance to ants and has what motivated Dr Deborah M. Gordon, who studies ants. Dr. Deborah is the assistant professor of biological sciences at Stanford University.

Dr Deborah says that ants have several duties and job descriptions.

Each ant on this planet has a job.

Among them, four of them are common, which are Patrolling, Foraging, Housekeeping and Midden (piling seeds for reuse). The foraging ants go where the Patrollers find food. Job roles are not assigned within the ant swarms, they can switch roles any time, and all this happens without a leader and a central plan.

An ant colony is analogous to how it works in the brain says Dr Deborah. A single neuron in the brain can do simple things but together, the brain thinks ‘ant swarms’. However, no single neuron has told the brain to think ‘ant swarms’.

When ants bump into each other, they pick up or access the symbolic information. Ants together know their territory and they know where it ends. When the territory shrinks, they encounter each other more and there is streaming information. Even when their territory expands, they seem to know it. A certain threshold of encounters bind them. So when their territory expands their encounters become less often. The increase and decrease of encounters seems to make those behavioral changes and path shifts in ant swarms.

Now, we will look at a couple of social behavior examples that Army ants exhibit using collective intelligence. Army ants read symbolic information as they pass them from one ant to another.

The name ‘Army ants’ is applied to over 200 species of ants and they are known for their aggressive foraging behavior which are called ‘raids’. They conduct these raids on the forest floors of tropical rain forests in South America and Asia.

Have you read?

Do ants have brains ? Yes collective intelligence
Symbiotic relationships of the coral reefs: A model social network for the future
Swarm theory practicality for social collaboration

Ant swarms have no central planning

Swarms of Army ants have two commendable characteristics. One is time keeping and the other one is navigation.

The Ant swarms maintain precise timing, which they display it during their nomadic and stationary phases. They maintain a strict 15 day period of nomadic behavior when their larvae are growing and followed by a 20-day stationary period during which the pupae develops.

The ant swarms navigational skills are exceptional and the way they navigate the thick forest floors of the tropical rain forest is a mystery.

During nomadic phase, the army ants conduct raids in a highly organized manner. The ants separate each raid by about approx. 123 degrees on the forest floor. This separation allows new prey to enter the previously raided area. This makes for a fresh bounty start again for the ants. How the ants precisely make such separation in a coordinated manner without central rules, is a mystery.

Another interesting feature is their eyesight. The ants have a very normal eyesight unlike other insects which have multifaceted compound eyes. They have a single facet compound eye, which makes for a very normal eyesight. Using this eyesight they remarkably navigate, finding their way in and out of the forest floor.

One reason could be that ant swarms behave like one and feel like one, wherein the thousands of individual single facet compound eyes act and move together as one. This coordinated act enables them to find their way through the forest floor.

In a similar finding, researchers from Princeton University have reported in a news article that army ants behaving like ant swarms use collective intelligence to build ‘living bridges’ using their own bodies.

If the ants detect congestion on the raiding trail, they would all assemble and build a bridge and disassemble or move away when there is free flow of movement, if you want to call it as ‘no traffic’.

The ants do this all the time to save energy and be more efficient. The ants use their own bodies to build the structure. They are maximizing their time and minimizing their effort and they do this on a daily basis.

The applications for such adaptive and complex behavior are far reaching in the areas of Robotics and Swarm intelligence.

Radhika Nagpal, who is a professor of computer science at Harvard University, says that this is much more fundamental in how complex systems are assemble and adapt in nature.

Such adaptive and self-organizing behavior with massive collective intelligence has huge potential for engineering applications for calculating cost-benefit ratios at a network level, says Radhika.

The ant swarms coordinate without any central rule. No manager or leader ant tells them what to do next. The ants just switch tasks basing on their perceived conditions. Such behavior also exists in birds flying in a flock and school of swimming fish as well. They just know when to turn in unison.

All said and done, ant swarms behavior confirms the existence of collective intelligence.


Swarm theory practicality for social collaboration- Part 1

Swarm theory

I drew the above picture of two ants talking to each other. It is a simple doodle sketch of two ants.

I would like to comment and talk about the subject context behind this simple doodle sketch. Hope you all will appreciate it.

A single bee or an ant is not smart but colonies of them are. We can draw intriguing insights from their behavior.  We must be thinking, a single ant should be very intelligent and confident.  We have always seen it marching so confidently up the sugar bowl in the kitchen cabinet. It is probably executing a planned action.  After all, we have seen ants making long winding lines, build elaborate ant hills and forage food like crazy.

‘It is not the case, a single ant is very incapable of accomplishing anything’ says Stanford University biologist, Deborah Gordon. She had written a good book titled ‘Ant encounters, interaction networks and colony behavior’. If you have the time, read it. It is available on Amazon. You can find the link here.

Then a question comes to our mind, how are they successful as species on earth for so long years. The answer lies in their group behavior. Colonies of ants also known as swarms are far more intelligent than a single ant on its own.  Colonies of ants can accomplish tasks, which are practically impossible for single ants to even think of. For example, colonies of ants can identify the shortest possible route to the food source and they can even organize and allocate various tasks to other ants. They are able to do all this with something called ‘Swarm intelligence’.

Please read our blog post article:  Swarm social media systems, intriguing swarm insights

It is not just with ants. There is a host of other insects and animals, which display the swarm intelligence. A school of Herring fish, for example, can coordinate their behavior collectively and turn their direction in a split second to avoid a threat.  They do this action collectively. It turns out there is no single fish within the school that is aware of the big picture. Scientists term this behavior as the ‘Swarm theory’.

Swarm theory practicality

Many scientists are intrigued by this swarm theory for the past 20 years and research is underway for the past 10 years to gain insights from this intriguing behavior.  Applications of swarm theory are enormous and can be used for wide applications in Artificial intelligence and Robotics to bring business efficiency.

Further, an interesting insight from the colony of ants is that none of the ants have a boss or a manager. The ants forage food, follow other ants, through a pheromone trail, and have countless interactions. They are self-organizing and collaborate among themselves. They have learned to adapt to this swarm behavior for millions of years. Their strengths lie in being together as a swarm and therein lies their success.

Please read our blog post article: Do ants have brains

Similarly, birds do not have a leader. Have you ever seen how migratory birds fly (There is Swarm theory in action!). There are countless pictures of them. Birds change the leadership often, as and when the lead bird gets tired. No bird is telling the other birds what to do. Birds just follow their neighbor as they fly across the sky. For once it is not about individual decision making. It is just blind following and trust on the neighbor birds, to coordinate their movement.

Continue reading

Swarm social media systems: Intriguing insights from Nature

flamingos- Swarm social media

Swarm social media systems require understanding of Mother Nature. We human beings are super organisms living in a swarm, constantly evolving and co-creating. An individual neuron (the brain cell) in our brain, decides to trigger  based on its connection and interaction with its neighboring neuron. When one brain cell talks the other listens. The swarm social media systems should replicate this environment.

Swarm theory

If you happen to walk into a garden during any of the rainy wet days, do not miss the chance to see nature at work, in its intriguing best.  Try to uncover a dense vegetative growth from the muddy earth or the surface of a dead rotting wood. There are good chances, you will find a small orange or pink colored blob sticking on to it. It is nothing but the “Slime mold”.

Slime mold - Yellowish orange blob
Slime mold – Yellowish orange blob

Till recently, the Slime mold was categorized under the Fungi family. Now it is an independent species, an organism. There are about 900 species of Slime mold all over the world. The word ‘slime’ derives from the gelatinous structure of the organism.

The peculiar behavior of the Slime moth is what brings our attention to.  The Slime moth exists as a single-celled organism most of the time and not as a yellowish-orange blob. But then during specific conditions, the cells miraculously disperse and the yellowish-orange blob completely disappears. It so happens that during abundance of food, they exist as single cell organisms, not visible to the naked eye but during food scarcity, they all aggregate.

Intriguingly, the slime mold is a single cell organism and yet they all miraculously find their way back and unite again as a yellowish –orange blob.

Each and every Slime mold cell,  acts like a simple mini-brain.They do simple tasks. No one single cell is in charge.

Yet with great intelligence, they all congregate and aggregate as a mass under natural circumstances. They come together as a swarm and act like one organism.

This behavior of the Slime moth has been studied by researchers all over the world from the last 60 years and are still not able to understand the logic in its entirety. This is  Swarm theory and the fundamentals for understanding the Swarm intelligence.  It is important to understand the Swarm theory in designing the Swarm Social media systems. Infact, such Swarm intelligence has been found in other species, as diverse as Bees, Ants, Birds and Fish to name a few.

Can humans display and act in such swarm intelligence?  The intriguing answer is – Yes, we already are. We do not know about it.

What is swarm intelligence?

You must have seen sometime or the other, a band of ants marching across your kitchen floor. Yes, they have found a food source and are foraging it.  A band of marching ants are smart, an individual ant is not.  A colony of ants are far smarter. An individual ant is relatively dumb and depends on its colony to make decisions.

The individual ant does not know what task to do next. But as a colony, the ants are smart they are able to effectively and efficiently respond to their environment. They are able to allocate tasks and defend their territory together.

As a colony, the ants are able to do, what becomes unthinkable for an individual ant. How are they able to this? They are able to do this through Swarm intelligence.  Swarm intelligence is also referred to as the “Wisdom of the crowds” or even “Collective intelligence” in different contexts. But according to this post and author, they are all the same. There are countless ways and manner in which Mother Nature displays wisdom. Ant colonies are just one.

School of Fish in a swarm
School of Fish in a swarm

Other such questions as, how are bees able to make decisions together for collecting honey for their hive?  How is a school of fish, able to make a coordinated decision together to swim in a particular direction?

The Wikipedia defines Swarm intelligence as a collective behavior of a decentralized and self-organizing system. Much of Swarm intelligence is applied right now in artificial intelligence and robotics.

Designing a swarm social media system from ground level is not easy.  In designing such a system, the local knowledge and micro level behavior of the individuals should determine the macro intelligence, the structure and adaptability of the system.

Read our blog post on Degrees of connection in social media systems: This talks about the various levels of connection, we human beings have within a social media system.

Principles of Swarm social media systems: Learning from Ant colonies

There are five principles of Swarm social media systems that we can learn from the Swarm intelligence of the Ant colonies.

1.Need for critical mass:

Having a critical mass of people to make intelligent assessments of the overall state. Having a ten member group, scanning an environment is not enough perhaps a few thousand would do. Like ants, more number of people need to contribute. The more the better.

As an example: wandering ants leave a small amount of pheromone secretion at the food source. They do their part. They do this act, unknowing of the fact that this act actually leaves a trail for other foraging ants to follow through. A kind of self-less behavior. Their self-less behavior creates a mass distribution line for other ants to join.

This behavior would not have been understood, if we were to study only the individual ants. The entire system need to be understood. If more number of ants are involved in this behavior and if they do different activities then it is better for the entire system.

2.Ignorance is bliss:

A very popular saying ‘Ignorance is bliss’ works well here. Not everyone in the group, need to have all the expertise and knowledge in the world. It is enough, if we do simple things. We need simple elements and simple behavior. Big macro level behavior should rise from simple acts. Dense interconnecting Swarm social media systems need to be built with simple elements that allow smart and intelligent behavior to arise out of it.

This takes direct cue from the relative stupidity of an individual ant. Individual ants just do their job. This works well with the swarm logic. We do not want a single ant in the colony to know everything or the overall state of the system. This becomes a real liability for the swarm logic and the swarm social media system.

The same analogy can be applied to the human brain as well. We do not want each one of the billions of neurons in the human brain to be sentient.  The neurons need to be collectively acting together to produce a macro level thought pattern.  I will be talking more about this in my blog post on social brain.

3.Random interactions are better:

The interaction among the members need to be in random fashion without any pre-planned effort in a swarm social media system. A simple rule of thumb interactions are better. Just like ants need freedom to look freely for their food, as individuals we need to interact freely. Our interactions with others, allows the system to have macro level behavior in a desired direction. It is only through such interactions, the overall change in the system can be assessed and stated.

4.Self-organizing patterns and signs:

Once we have the free interactions with others, we need to identify and assess the bigger self-organizing patterns. Swarms need to understand the overarching behavior, so that everyone follows suit. In ants, the gradient of pheromone trails leads other ants to a macro behavior, which is normally towards the direction of the food source. But sometimes, depending on the amount of pheromones, it could be for foraging or nest building.

This self-organizing capacity is inherent in ant colonies. Usually, the same logic applies when members in a group follow, what the vast majority of people are already doing. In a typical swarm behavior, we need to look for patterns.

5.Pay attention to your neighbors:

In a swarm social media system, it is important that members see what their neighbors are doing and learn from them. It is only through such interactions we learn from each other. And when we learn from each other, we begin to solve problems by ourselves. An intelligent collective behavior emerges. Ants do the same. They learn from neighboring ants.

It is important that we design a swarm social media system which is free for everyone to interact. Without interaction it would just be a meaningless grouping. It is only through relationships and interactions that things start moving. This is swarm logic.

Leaving behind: What I like to say

Ant hill colony
Ant hill colony

We are just not individual organisms but super organisms living collectively in a swarm. The key to designing a Swarm social media system lies understanding human nature.  But then, a more visible organization that Mother Nature displays is through the ant colonies. There is no management. There is no boss or a manager ant and yet the individual ants display and act in remarkable sincerity and commitment to do their part.

Each individual ant does its duty and does its part. This is important.

The ants talk to each other through myriad ways.  There are countless interactions between them. These interactions result in super intelligence to accomplish insurmountable tasks. They are self-organizing and that is Swarm social media system for you

Further resources on this subject

  1. Swarm theory, National Geographic
  2. Emergence, Steven Johnson.
  3. World computing.
  4. Wiki on Slime mold.
  5. Wiki on Swarm intelligence

Other useful sources

James F.Kennedy, Swarm Intelligence (The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Evolutionary Computation)

Andries P. Engelbrecht, Fundamentals of Computational Swarm Intelligence

Marco Dorigo, Ant Colony Optimization (Bradford Books)

Image source : Pixabay

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