, Volume 91, Issue 12, pp 602–606 | Cite as

Nest excavation in ants: group size effects on the size and structure of tunneling networks

  • Jérôme Buhl
  • Jacques Gautrais
  • Jean-Louis Deneubourg
  • Guy Theraulaz
Short Communication


Collective digging activity was studied in the ant Messor sancta Forel in laboratory conditions and with a two dimensional set-up. We analyzed the digging dynamics and topology of tunneling networks excavated by groups of workers ranging from 50 to 200 individuals over 3 days. In all conditions, the dynamics of excavated sand volume were clearly non-linear. Excavation began with an exponential growth and after 3 days reached a saturation phase in which activity was almost totally stopped. The final volume of sand excavated was positively correlated with the number of workers. At the end of the experiments, the two-dimensional tunneling networks were mapped onto planar graphs where the vertices represent small chambers or intersections between tunnels and the edges represent tunnels. We found that all the networks belonged to a same topological family and exhibited several striking invariants such as the distribution of vertex degree that follows a power law. When increasing the number of ants, some changes occurred in the network structure, mainly an increase in the number of edges and vertices, and the progressive emergence of enlarged and highly connected vertices.


Excavation Planar Graph Vertex Degree Group Size Effect Digging Activity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank V. Fourcassié, R. Jeanson, C. Jost, and P. Rasse for many helpful discussions and suggestions. J. Buhl is supported by a doctoral grant from the French Ministry of Scientific Research. J.-L. Deneubourg is a research associate of the Belgian National Foundation for Scientific Research. This work was partly supported by the Programme Cognitique of the French Ministry of Scientific Research.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jérôme Buhl
    • 1
  • Jacques Gautrais
    • 1
  • Jean-Louis Deneubourg
    • 2
  • Guy Theraulaz
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, CNRS-UMR 5169Université Paul SabatierToulouse Cedex 4France
  2. 2.CENOLI, CP 231Université Libre de BruxellesBelgiumBelgium

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