A new study has found that ants hunt for food in a way that's basically the same as the internet's Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), and they were doing it long before the world wide web was around. The study included an Indian-origin researcher.
Stanford University's Biology professor, Deborah Gordon, wrote an algorithm that described how harvester ants go in search of food and realised it seemed similar to how files are transferred on computer networks.
He showed it to her Stanford University colleague, computer science professor Balaji Prabhakar, who agreed that it was almost exactly the same as how internet protocols figure out how much bandwidth is needed to transfer a file, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Gordon's research, recently published in the PLoS Computational Biology, found that the rate at which harvester ants leave the nest to search for food corresponds to the amount of food available.
The ants - which forage individually - do not return to the nest until they find food. The more food there is, the faster the ants return and the more ants leave the nest to retrieve it. If there is less food available, the ants return empty handed and the foraging slows or stops.
This process is almost identical to how the internet manages data congestion using a process called Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP.
It works by dividing data downloads into numbered "packets". When that file is received, the packet sends feedback to the original source. If the message returns slower, the source will decrease the download rate.
Conversely, if the message is received quickly, the speed will increase.
Prof Gordon and Prabhakar are now calling the process "the anternet".
"I think as we start understanding more about how species of ants regulate their behaviour, we'll find many more useful applications for network algorithms," Prof Gordon told Stanford University's online news website