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Death Spiral

Animal psychologist Ted Schneirla first described the army ant death spiral in 1944, based on his observations on Barro Colorado Island (BCI). Ants follow a chemical trail left by the ants in front of them. When one ant starts to walk in a circle by mistake, others follow, marching in a circle until they are exhausted.

Scott Powell, Associate Professor of Biology at the George Washington University, suggests, rather than focusing on “a biological failure of their amazing collective behavior,” that we share this image of an ant swarm from a publication by Carl Rettenmeyer, University of Connecticut, who also worked on BCI. Swarming ants work together to overwhelm insects and spiders in their path, which become food for their growing colony.

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Everyday we publish the latest discoveries at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Learn more about us and the science we do at Barro Colorado Island.