Animal Cognition

, 12:21 | Cite as

Individual and collective problem-solving in a foraging context in the leaf-cutting ant Atta colombica

  • Audrey Dussutour
  • Jean-Louis Deneubourg
  • Samuel Beshers
  • Vincent Fourcassié
Original Paper


In this paper we investigate the flexibility of foraging behavior in the leaf-cutting ant Atta colombica, both at the individual and collective levels, following a change in the physical properties of their environment. We studied in laboratory conditions the changes occurring in foraging behavior when a height constraint was placed 1 cm above part of the trail linking the nest to the foraging area. We found that the size and shape of the fragments of foraging material brought back to the nest were significantly modified when the constraint was placed on the trail: independent of their size, forager ants cut smaller and rounder fragments in the presence of a height constraint than in its absence. This size adjustment does not require any direct sensory feedback because it occurred when the ants cut fragments in the foraging area; no further cutting was done when they encountered the constraint. This points to the existence of a template that ants store and use as a reference to adjust their reach while cutting. Remarkably, despite the decrease in the foraging material brought to the nest per capita the colony was still able to improve its foraging performance by doubling the number of transporters. This study illustrates the flexibility of foraging behavior exhibited by an ant colony. It provides a rare example of insects finding an intelligent solution to a problem occurring in a foraging context, at both the individual and collective levels.


Leaf-cutting ants Foraging behavior Flexibility Recruitment Crowding Learning 



We thank M. Gauthier and M. Giurfa for helpful discussions. A. D. was supported by a mobility fellowship (bourse de co-tutelle Belgique-France) from the French Ministry of Scientific Research and a fellowship (ATUPS) from Paul Sabatier University (Toulouse, France). J. L. D. is a research associate from the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Audrey Dussutour
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Jean-Louis Deneubourg
    • 2
  • Samuel Beshers
    • 3
  • Vincent Fourcassié
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition animale, UMRCNRS 5169Université Paul SabatierToulouse Cedex 4France
  2. 2.Unit of Social EcologyUniversité Libre de BruxellesBruxellesBelgium
  3. 3.Department of EntomologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA
  4. 4.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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