A recent paper in PLOS ONE deals with an interesting topic: ant kinematics. The study investigated the physiological adaptations used in grass-cutting ants (Atta vollenweideri) to avoid falling over. To this end, the researchers set up a somewhat elaborate contraption that is able to record the movements of the ants. See Figure 1 from the paper:
They found that the ants used an “alternating tripod gait”, which basically means that cycles of movement for each set of legs overlapped (with the fore and hind legs of one side in phase with the mid leg of the other). Furthermore, “the overlap was greatest for ants carrying long fragments, resulting in more legs contacting the ground simultaneously”. The researches report some other results as well, but it should be clear that this study is an interesting one.
I tried thinking of applications for these results, and I could only come up with the military. With the government’s potential interest in insect drones, such research could aid the development of more realistic, and therefore better camouflaged, robo-bugs.
Moll K, Roces F, Federle W (2013) How Load-Carrying Ants Avoid Falling Over: Mechanical Stability during Foraging in Atta vollenweideri Grass-Cutting Ants. PLoS ONE 8(1): e52816.