Training ants is an amazing experience as it allows you to use their skills or capabilities in the right direction to bring desired changes in their behavior.
Can Ants Be Trained? You can train ants to recognize particular odors using their sense of smell, which helps them detect cancer cells. Moreover, they can be used to control pest populations damaging crops by training them through reinforcement learning methods. In addition, this method involves the removal of barriers that can distract movement during training and rewarding them after detecting signals successfully.
It is possible to train species of ants that are not dangerous, like bullet or velvet ants, as they are deadly insects, but wood and weaver ants are reported to be trained by people.
Moreover, these insects prefer to live in an organized environment, so it is better to keep a few of them together during training sessions; otherwise, they cannot learn efficiently.
How do you train ants?
It is easy to train ants as you have to make use of their sense of smell, which helps them navigate in the surrounding areas and detect environmental changes.
Due to their sense of smell, they can detect odor molecules having slight differences in their chemical structures, making them suitable for accurately identifying signals.
Many theories are present in the scientific literature that explain efficient learning methods that can be employed to modulate the behavior of ants.
There is a reinforcement learning method that is based on giving rewards for the desired actions or behaviors. For example, you can train ants by offering food as a reward.
Moreover, you can encourage them to move in a particular direction by removing all the barriers responsible for changing their movement direction.
In positive reinforcement, you have to give a reward by providing a fruit chunk or a sweet candy to the ants when they choose the desired option.
In the same way, you can punish them for choosing the wrong option by placing some repellants close to them, like a coffee ground or cinnamon stick.
When you practice the same learning method for a few days, they get used to a particular signal and follow the specific trail to get the reward.
So, you can change their behavior by familiarizing them with some specific odors similar to the chemicals released by them.
Furthermore, they can efficiently recognize cancerous cells within 20 to 30 minutes with high accuracy.
Why would you train ants?
Many people do not know that ants can be trained, as it seems difficult to make them learn about specific signals.
It can be astonishing that you can modulate the behavior of these tiny creatures using their sense of smell, but it is possible to induce a particular response.
It is reported that a few farmers have trained these insects to control the populations of larger bugs that are responsible for crop loss.
Moreover, they have caught and instructed these insects to deal with bigger pests by signaling them to move into the field and attack them.
Many larger pests were damaging the cashew nut crops, but they were easily controlled by these trained patrolling insects that killed them efficiently.
In addition, these can also detect cancer cells efficiently after a few sessions when they are exposed to cancerous cells to recognize their smell.
It is a cost-effective and quick method to teach them about the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous cells.
Furthermore, they can even replace dogs used for cancer detection as dogs take more time to get trained and identify the difference.
You can also make them learn to take their trash out of the house, as their natural behavior is to throw waste material out of the nest.
So, it is not difficult to make them familiar with novel odors, but their capability to learn and follow the signals vary in different species and castes in a colony.
How long do ants take to get trained?
Every ant species has different learning capability and need different time duration to get familiar with signals that are accompanied by rewards.
It is challenging to train a large colony based on hundreds of members, so it is better to deal with only 20 to 50 ants simultaneously.
Their memory can last for almost 48 to 72 hours if they have stored information as short-term memory in the brain.
Moreover, the younger ones take more time to recognize the scent of odors as these are usually less experienced than older ones.
In contrast, the old and experienced colony members that have identified various odors in their lifespan can learn quickly.
It becomes easier to deal with these older insects than dogs as they are quick learners and need only 3 to 5 sessions.
However, a few species require multiple training sessions that can last for weeks, but it will be long-term learning as their brains can store information for longer periods.
It is not ideal to train only one ant as these insects perform better in the form of a group when the tiny brains of multiple insects combine to perform well.
Can ants learn to avoid bait?
Baits are prepared to attract ants as they contain a food source like sugar powder mixed with boric acid. However, boric acid is known to kill these insects by causing issues in their digestive system.
They are intelligent insects that can learn to avoid the bait when one of their fellows dies. Instead, the dead one releases a chemical signal based on oleic acid to attract nest fellows.
Accordingly, these nest mates move towards the particular spot by detecting chemicals and analyzing the situation to know the reasons responsible for the death.
Once they have found the bait dangerous for themselves, they will never eat it and begin to avoid it. Probably, they are trying to access other food sources when you have placed bait close to trails.
In addition, it depends on the diet requirement, and baits composition as most of them are made of sugar, peanut butter, or any other sweet items.
They can also ignore carbohydrate-rich bait when they need protein for brood production, as they do not need carbohydrates every time.
The preference for nutrient intake depends on the requirement of the colony, as they need sugar to get energy for foraging and nest cleaning.
In the same way, they choose protein sources when they have to produce new eggs, as protein helps in the growth of larvae.
Furthermore, it also depends on their species, as Argentine ants prefer to eat insects and get protein from the muscular bodies of dead insects.
They can attack invertebrates whenever they invade a new location to build their nest. It reduces their interest in carbohydrates, and they can learn to ignore the sugar baits.