An ant mill is an observed phenomenon in which a group of army ants, which are blind, are separated from the main foraging party, lose the pheromone track and begin to follow one another, forming a continuously rotating circle, commonly known as a “death spiral” since the ants will eventually die of exhaustion. It has been reproduced in laboratories and has been produced in ant colony simulations. The phenomenon is a side effect of the self-organizing structure of ant colonies. Each ant follows the ant in front of it, which works until something goes wrong, and an ant mill forms. An ant mill was first described by William Beebe in 1921 who observed a mill 1200 ft (~370 m) in circumference. It took each ant 2.5 hours to make one revolution. Similar phenomena have been noted in processionary caterpillars and fish.
In popular culture
- The song Spiral of Ants by Lemon Demon is based on the phenomenon.
- Delsuc F (2003). "Army Ants Trapped by Their Evolutionary History". PLoS Biology. 1 (2): e37. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0000037. PMC 261877. PMID 14624241.
- Couzin ID & NR Franks (2003). "Self-organized lane formation and optimized traffic flow in army ants". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 270 (1511): 139–146. doi:10.1098/rspb.2002.2210. PMC 1691225. PMID 12590751.
- William Beebe, Edge of the Jungle (New York, New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1921), pp. 291-294.
- Wisdom of the Crowds by James Surowiecki
- Schneirla TC (1944). "A unique case of circular milling in ants, considered in relation to trail following and the general problem of orientation". American Museum Novitates. 1253: 1–26. hdl:2246/3733.
- Ant mill videos:
- A software simulation of an ant mill (in Russian)
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