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Why Ants Get Stuck In Circular Death Traps

by : Emily Brown on :
Why Ants Get Stuck In Circular Death Traps
Why Ants Get Stuck In Circular Death Traps (Twitter/@Bitcoin)

A colony of ants caught in a so-called 'circular death trap' has fascinated viewers after footage of the bizarre scene was shared online.

Ants typically live in structured communities and are known to work together around a queen, though the chaos in this particular video proves they aren't always busy foraging for food or climbing over one another to build bridges.

In the clip, shared on both Reddit and Twitter, a colony of ants can be seen swirling around in circles like a bug whirlpool, running constantly with seemingly no end in sight.

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Alongside the clip, the poster wrote: "Army ants are blind. They rely on pheromones to track the ones in front. If one ant intersects with its old trail, it results in a circular death trap where they spiral until they die from exhaustion."

Science Direct confirms the ants are 'practically blind', using their pheromonal system to mark their paths and follow the paths taken by others.

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Though this system obviously works well enough most of the time, it evidently can also result in these 'death traps', more typically known as ant mills, with the ants unaware they are tracing the same paths around and around.

A blog written for Cornell University, dramatically named 'The Spiral Trap of Death', explains: "[Ants] are tied together through the pheromone trail each emits and an evolutionary compulsion. This network, however, consists of rather weak ties, as it is very possible for a cluster of ants to break off into one of these “ant mills” and be completely separated from the rest of the swarm."

Ants work together in communities. Credit: PIxabay
Ants work together in communities. Credit: PIxabay

It's undoubtedly a sad way to go, though I suppose at least the ants can die knowing their tracking system is working, albeit not in the most useful way.

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The footage has fascinated viewers, with one Reddit user describing it as 'the coolest fact' they'd learned 'all week' and adding: "Thank you random internet stranger."

Another viewer commented: "For an organism so advanced i would have thought they have some fail safe in case this happens."

On a good day, according to the Cornell blog, the system can help the ants lead large numbers to food supplies. The insects typically feast on nectar, seeds, fungus, or insects, though army ants such as those seen in the video can even prey on reptiles, birds, or even small mammals – when they're not caught in death spirals, that is.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University before going on to contribute to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems. She joined UNILAD in 2018 and now works as Senior Journalist covering breaking news, trending stories and longer form features with a focus on human interest stories.

Topics: News, Animals, Viral, Twitter, Reddit