QR codes help University researchers to understand ants

QR codes on ants
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QR codes on antsThe scientists were able to use the barcodes to monitor the social hierarchy in a colony.

Scientists in Switzerland from the University of Lausanne have found a new and fascinating use for QR codes in which they were employed to better understand the social hierarchy of ants, so that fascinating new discoveries could be made.

The use of the barcodes allowed an entire colony of ants to be tracked by following each individual.

The scientists were able to use the QR codes to individually mark each member of an ant colony so that the social structure could be better understood, right down to each specific individual. The study allowed the researchers to follow individual ants over a period of 41 days. The results of the research were published in the Science journal.

Over 100 individual ants in a lab were tagged with the QR codes so that they could be followed.

The published paper showed that the ants lived within a flat enclosure that was simple to film and to study. It was positioned under overhead cameras so that it could be easily viewed. Throughout the study, over 2.4 billion readings were taken and there were approximately 9.4 billion interactions documented among the ants. This tremendous amount of data was collected by a computer that scanned the QR codes to track the location of every ant, two times every second.


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What was discovered through this data from the QR codes scans was that at any given moment, approximately 40 percent of the workers had the task of taking care of the queen as well as her new babies. Another 30 percent of the ants took on the task of keeping the colony clean, while only 30 percent of the colony were food collectors.

What the QR codes also helped to discover was that a single ant doesn’t perform the same task for its whole life. Instead, as the ant ages, it will typically move on from one duty to the next. That said, this was not universally the case. Usually, younger ants acted as the caregivers for the queen and her offspring. As they grew older they would start to become the cleaners of the colony. Finally when they were older, they would forage for food. That said, there were older caregivers and younger foragers in the mix.

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