Behaviour 2019
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Buffon’s needle revisited: How do ants assess nest site areas?
Benjamin Z. Taylor, Supraja Rajagopal, Takao Sasaki. 1 Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, United States

Animals often use simple decision-making strategies to solve complex tasks. Colonies of rock ants (Temnothorax rugatulus) live in rock crevices and must frequently relocate due to the fragility of their nest site. When Temnothorax colonies face multiple potential nests, they consider several features, such as nest site area, and select the best—the largest nest site. How can ants measure areas that are magnitudes larger than their own body? Mallon and Franks (2000) proposed a potential solution for this: ants use Buffon’s needle algorithm, in which scouts use the frequency of intersection with their own paths over multiple visits. Here, we empirically tested Buffon’s needle algorithm by tracking each scout throughout an emigration using micro tags. Based on these detailed data, we then explored alternative strategies that ants use for assessing areas.