Ants Use The Internet?

Florida harvester ant polymorphic workers
Florida harvester ant polymorphic workers (Photo credit: bob in swamp)

Contrary to popular belief, Al Gore did not create the internet– Ants may have thousands of years ago.

New research from Stanford University suggests that Harvester Ants use their own type of internet, or “anternet,” for decision making inside the nest. These ant colonies are able to determine how many foragers need to be sent out by using a protocol system that is similar to the one IT professionals use to find out how much bandwidth is accessible on the internet.

Harvester Ant Evolution

It has long been thought by scientists that there may be some connection between ant behavior and computer science. Biologist Deborah Gordon and computer scientist Balaji Prabhaker of Stanford University have verified in this research that ant decision making and behavior is synchronized by a complex set of algorithms. It is suggested in the research that Harvester Ants have developed these algorithms over the course of millions of years of insect evolution, and that they still continue to evolve.

Transmission Control Protocol

After observing the Harvester Ants, the Stanford scientists were able to determine that the ants were using an algorithm similar to Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). TCP was a significant advancement in the formation of the internet. It permitted information technologists to take the internet from a few dozen nodes to the billions currently in use today. It works by moving a file from a source to the destination in a series of packets. The source is continually informed by the destination as to when the packets have arrived. So, if it’s taking too long, there must not be much bandwidth available, and the source will re-adjust by decreasing the rate of packet transmission.

English: Harvester Ant This ant is most likely...

TCP and Harvester Ants

Harvester Ants use their own type of TCP to determine how much food is available based on information brought back from the worker ants. The workers leave the nest in search of food. They harvest pollen directly from plants, gather dead insects, and forage for fallen seeds. Workers usually forage for only one specific type of food each day, changing their specialty daily, and will only return to the colony after it finds food. If the amount of food available is high, a higher number of worker ants will return. They’ll transmit acknowledgment messages, through the antennae, to the rest of the colony about the abundance of food. Much like TCP controls the release of data depending on bandwidth, the Harvester Ant colony will release worker ants depending on the amount of food.

What These Findings Mean for Pest Control Operators

All this new research is just confirming what many of us pest control operators already know… A Harvester Ant colony’s nest must be directly treated, not just the areas affected by the foraging ants. The foraging ants may be few, or many, depending on the TCP release of ants. No matter the number of foraging ants on a property, there will be thousands more inside the actual nest. Harvester Ant colonies will occur in open areas, and only have a single opening near the top of a dirt/gravel mound. There will be no vegetation within a three foot radius of the mound, and colonies are widely separated. Workers ants forage April thru September– Foraging throughout the day during cooler months, and only 5–11 am and 3–9 pm during the summer. Ant insecticide should be applied directly to the colony’s nest during the warmest part of the day when the ants are least active.

What Else Will Harvester Ants Teach Us?

Harvester ants continue to amaze us all with their capabilities. Working together as a collective, they are able of performing remarkably complicated responsibilities. As they continue to evolve, these ants may continue to teach our society more and more about network systems.




Anthony Ball is a Content Marketing Manager with Bulwark Exterminating, an industry leader in providing high quality pest control service. Bulwark is fully operational in nine states, including thirteen major cities. While Bulwark provides pest extermination for common pests like ants, roaches, crickets and spiders; the company's differentiating aspect is great personalized service. Bulwark uses the finest and most effective products in the world to solve common pest problems.

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