LOS ANGELES —  Dave Matthews Band named a song after them and now scientists at UCLA say ants could help improve SoCal’s transportation networks and even reduce congestion on Interstate 405 — the busiest freeway in the country.

“I’ve always liked social behavior and ants are probably one of the most social animals out there,” said Dr. Noa Pinter-Wollman, UCLA Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

She is the co-author of a new study that found the way ants build their nests is dictated by factors such as the environments in which they forage for food and how they transport it.

“We can learn from that how the structure of the freeways will constrain the way cars move, whether they’re self driving cars, and then influence the function of society in terms of us being able to get to where we want in a timely manner,” she said.

Pinter-Wollman and her team examined the nests from more than 30 species of ants. 

UCLA Biologist Noa Pinter-Wollman co-authored a study that looked at how ants could influence our transportation networks. (Spectrum News/Ariel Wesler)

They found the structure of the nest is optimized to the way they work together or not when it comes to foraging for food.

“These entrance chambers where they make these decisions are bigger in ants species that have a lot of recruitment and smaller in ant species that don’t have as much recruitment,” she said.

Scientists poured plaster down the nests to create casts that could then be studied, revealing, in many cases, a vast network of underground tunnels and chambers with the number of ants ranging from hundreds to millions.

“It’s just very impressive to see how so many individuals can work together to achieve collective goals,” Pinter-Wollman said.

Researchers say if roads were better tailored to the ways good and people move through cities, freeways could be more efficient. 

One example is dedicated roads or lanes for trucks traveling to and from major hubs, especially useful they say in a future where cars drive themselves.

“We can then basically program these self-driving cars to use these local rules that take into account other cars around them, the size of the highway, the traffic conditions and so on to move more efficiently,” Pinter-Wollman said.

In other words, those looking to solve the daily rat race may want to turn to ants for answers.

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