Last year, I wrote about how some ants can find their way home after finding food. They have the remarkable ability to account for all the twists and turns they made while foraging and calculate a direct path leading straight back to their nest. A reader emailed to ask if I thought humans would ever be able to do something similar or to achieve the level of co-ordination shown by ants. This post is based on my reply, where I pointed out several things that humans are amazingly good at doing — in fact, we do them so well and with such ease that you might be surprised by how difficult they actually are! I’ve spent a lot of time on Inspiring Science talking about behaviours and abilities which show that other animals aren’t just simple automata because I think it’s important to make the point that although humans are unique, we aren’t special; we’re just another species with our own particular tricks for surviving in this world. I’ll take a different tack in this post and talk about some of the ways we stand out! Continue reading »
Snowflakes, with their intricate patterns and captivating symmetry, are entrancingly beautiful and have become a ubiquitous icon of winter. Reading D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form during the plentiful and early snowfall we’ve enjoyed in southern Finland this winter, I couldn’t help but wonder how these remarkable structures form. I decided the right response would be to write a post about it and avail myself of the opportunity to learn about something new. We’re having a white Christmas in Finland, but wherever you are and whatever the weather may be, read on to find out what makes snowflakes so beautiful and whether each one really is unique. Continue reading »
One of the great things about working at a university is the opportunity to go to talks and learn about all kinds of interesting subjects from experts. As a biologist, I don’t usually hear much about Mars and astrogeology in my daily life, but I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a talk by Professor Victor Baker earlier this week. During his visit to Helsinki, Professor Baker lectured about the geological history of water on Mars. Though this is well outside my area of expertise, I hope to share some of the amazing things I learned, starting with a story about the recent ice age on Mars and the astonishing mechanism behind it.
A recent study looking at how colonies of ants regulate their foraging behaviour has caused a bit of a buzz online. A lot of the coverage has focused on a similarity highlighted in the press release, which says that the ants “determine how many foragers to send out of the nest in much the same way that Internet protocols discover how much bandwidth is available for the transfer of data”. While it’s wonderful that the study has received so much attention, I can’t help but feel that the really interesting aspect of this study has been overlooked in the excitement about the “anternet”. While the similarity between the two systems is striking, I’m more fascinated by a basic difference: unlike our computer networks, the regulation system in ants isn’t purposefully designed but emerges from uncoordinated decisions made by individuals.
Continue reading »