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© Guy THERAULAZ/CRCA/CNRS Photothèque
Regularly spaced pillars and walls of an antheap built in experimental conditions by a group of 500 ants of the Lasius niger species. By putting ants into experimental devices, research scientists are studying antheap formation. Consequently, they have discovered that ants deposit a pheromone onto the pellets of earth that they move, and it is this chemical substance that governs the entire dynamics of construction, the growth and the shape of the nests. If weather conditions result in rapid evaporation of the pheromone, the ants will build fewer pillars, thus enabling improved retention of moisture. It is this ability to adapt their habitat to their environment, and especially weather conditions, that is of particular interest to the research scientists. They are trying to understand how these insects, guided by their collective intelligence, manage to build very elaborate structures while exhibiting simple individual behaviour.