Active ants alternate between moving and resting. While charting new territory, workers leave behind chemical messages about their environment. Releasing ants one at a time into an enclosed arena, the researchers watched as solitary ants responded to information left by their predecessors, varying the average speed of their next movements.
But exploring ants didn’t make these adjustments en route.
Mathematical analyses of the ants’ behavior suggest that the length of ant movements are determined before an ant even lifts a leg. So ants probably process chemical cues while paused between motions, the researchers say.
It’s possible that ants save mental energy by halting to think, the team says.
Editor’s Note: The title of the study cited in this story was updated January 13, 2016, to reflect a change made by the authors.