Remember the television show “Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”
Audrey Dussutour was recently quoted in a Wired Magazine article, “If you had a competition between slime molds and ants, the slime molds would win…”
She was talking about the ability of slime molds to “remember” where they had been, even though they have no brains or neurons. (Just for the record, ants do have brains -scroll down to see the cool illustrations).
Let’s see these slime molds in action:
Dussutour was basing her comparisons on her earlier work with ant traffic patterns (2009).
What Dussutour and her colleagues are really studying is an organism’s ability to chemically mark its environment in order to either revisit or avoid the same position. The slime molds produce a long term slime (mucus) that prevents them from returning to the same spots they have visited previously. Ants, on the other hand, often lay short-term pheromone trails to help guide others to a food source.
An ant running a more complex maze:
Seems like similar mechanisms with different goals.
So, myrmecologists, are we going to take this sitting down? Are slime molds really better at “remembering” where they have been than ants?
Chris R. Reid, Tanya Latty, Audrey Dussutour, and Madeleine Beekman. (2012). Slime mold uses an externalized spatial “memory” to navigate in complex environments PNAS 2012 109 (43) 17490-17494.
Dussutour, A., Beshers, S., Deneubourg, J. L. and Fourcassié, V. (2009). Priority rules govern the organization of traffic on foraging trails under crowding conditions in the leaf-cutting ant Atta colombica. Journal of Experimental Biology, 212 (4): 499-505
Vincent Fourcassié, Audrey Dussutour, and Jean-Louis Deneubourg. (2010). Ant traffic rules. The Journal of Experimental Biology 213: 2357-2363. download for free here
Alex Wild’s recent post about photographing slime molds, with great photographs