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  • Writer's picturePaul


It’s a rainy afternoon, there’s absolutely nothing to watch on Netflix, and all your friends are busy. So what are you going to do to alleviate the boredom?

Research a new hobby? Get to all those odd jobs around the house? Or how about putting tiny stilts on ants as a scientific experiment? Well, no prizes for guessing that it was the latter of those suggestions that Matthias Wittlinger and his team of biologists from the University of Ulm in southern Germany decided to partake in during a study of ants in the Sahara Desert in 2004. Admittedly, there was a lot less to distract you on the internet back then, so ants on stilts probably seemed like a corker of an idea.

An ant looking happy here.

Presumably because a scientist hasn’t strapped a pair of stilts to him. (Pixabay)

The purpose of Wittlinger’s experiment was to test a theory that ants have an internal pedometer. In other words, Wittlinger wanted to know whether or not ants find their way home by counting and remembering the number of steps they walk away from the nest, and then recounting that number back on the return journey.

To test his theory, Wittlinger and his team of researchers first let the ants walk away from their nest then captured a small number of them and divided them into two groups. The first group had their legs cut short by the scientists (those monsters!) while the second group had tiny stilts attached to their legs. The ants were then given some food for their troubles, and released to find their own way back to the nest.

The result? The ants whose legs had been cut to stumps undershot the nest by a full 5 meters, while the ants now walking on stilts overshot the nest by 5 meters.

Wittlinger used this as evidence that ants do indeed count their steps. And, it seems, can survive even after their legs have been cut to stumps...

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