Monday, June 04, 2007

La solución a los huecos

Ok, lean esto:

Road repairs the insect way

Here’s a question. You’re driving along, and in the road ahead you spot an enormous pothole. Do you:

a) try and drive round it?
b) drive over it slowly to avoid completely wrecking your car’s suspension and jarring the bones of its occupants?
c) wait for someone to get out of their car and plug the hole with their own body, thereby creating a smooth road surface?

Most people would probably opt for options a or b, but not the intrepid army ants of Central and South America, as researchers from the University of Bristol report in the journal Animal Behaviour.

When army ants want to bring their booty home from hunting expeditions, they take the ant motorway. Unfortunately, these jungle highways are often uneven and full of potholes (here you can insert your own joke about the state of your country’s roads). Given that these anty raiding parties often involve some 200,000 ants, slowing down to manoeuvre around these obstacles would quickly lead to traffic jams worthy of the Brussels Ring on the first day of a new school term. (Again, readers are welcome to insert the name of their own local traffic hotspots here.)

Lacking JCBs, steamrollers and the ability to make tarmac, our insect friends have come up with another, simpler solution to fill in these holes: they selflessly use their own bodies. What’s more, they match themselves to the size of the hole, with small ants plugging small holes and bigger ants plunging themselves into bigger holes. The result is a beautifully flat, even road surface, which results in a smooth and rapid flow of traffic. Once the last ant has passed, the ants simply clamber out of their holes and follow the army home.

‘When it comes to rapid road repairs, the ants have their own do-it-yourself highways agency,’ quips Professor Nigel Franks, who carried out the study.

So why do they do it? CORDIS Express suspects that these apparently selfless ants are just not very bright, probably as a result of having their heads trodden on umpteen times. However, according to the researchers, it turns out that by smoothing the road surface in this way the prey gets back to the nest much faster, and so plugging behaviour leads to an increase in daily prey intake.

In any case, next time you're out in your car and you're cursing the Ministry of Roads as you jolt your way over pothole after pothole, just be glad you're not an ant...


¿Vieron qué fácil se solucionan los problemas? Ahora vayan y tírensen a los huecos de la calle.

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