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Ants Can Do It, Too!
... so how hard can it really be for a vertebrate?
In tomorrow's _Nature_, controlled descent (almost parachuting, without
the parachute) in an insect demonstrates dynamic aerial three-dimensional
spatial organization in the cortex of the ant-brain (I mean, how else can
it judge aerial distances?)
Yankoviak, S. P., R. Dudley, M. Kaspari. 2005. Directed aerial descent
canopy ants. _Nature_ 433:624-626.
"Numerous non-flying arboreal vertebrates use controlled descent (either
parachuting or gliding sensu stricto) to avoid predation or to locate
resources, and directional control during a jump or fall is thought to
be an important stage in the evolution of flight. Here we show that
workers of the neotropical ant *Cephalotes atratus* L. (Hymenoptera:
Formicidae) use directed aerial descent to return to their home tree
trunk with >80% success during a fall. Videotaped falls reveal that *C.
atratus* workers descend abdomen-first through steep glide trajectories
at relatively high velocities; a field experiment shows that falling
ants use visual cues to locate tree trunks before they hit the forest
floor. Smaller workers of *C. atratus*, and smaller species of
*Cephalotes* more generally, regain contact with their associated tree
trunk over shorter vertical distances than do larger workers. Surveys
common arboreal ants suggest that directed descent occurs in most
species of the tribe Cephalotini and arboreal Pseudomyrmecinae, but not
in arboreal ponerimorphs or Dolichoderinae. This is the first study to
document the mechanics and ecological relevance of this form of
locomotion in the Earth's most diverse lineage, the insects."
Jaime A. Headden
Little steps are often the hardest to take. We are too used to making leaps
in the face of adversity, that a simple skip is so hard to do. We should all
learn to walk soft, walk small, see the world around us rather than zoom by it.
"Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth." --- P.B. Medawar (1969)
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