, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 3-8

Head-on encounter rates and walking speed of foragers in leaf-cutting ant traffic

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Trail traffic of the leaf-cutting ant Atta cephalotes involves intermingled flows of outbound and returning foragers. Head-on encounters between workers from the opposite flows are a common occurrence in this traffic. Each encounter momentarily delays the two ants involved, and these small delays might pose a significant cost to the colony's foraging performance when summed over thousands of workers along many metres of trail. We videotaped outbound and returning foragers over a 1 m course, and measured the encounter rates they experienced and their velocity. Our analysis indicates that locomotion speed is diminished by increasing encounter rate, but that the effect is small relative to the effects of ant body size and load mass. Head-on encounters allow exchange of information and leaf fragments between workers, and we consider how the benefits of such encounters may make this form of traffic organization superior to segregated outbound and returning lanes, despite the measurable c ost of encounters in mixed traffic.

Received 11 February 2002; revised 24 June 2002; accepted 20 July 2002.