When female worker ants of the species Temnothorax albipennis set out for food, they often find another ant to make the journey with. If the second ant doesn't know where to find food, the leader teaches her through tandem running.
The process is slow. The follower pauses every once and a while—creating a gap between it and the leader—to search for landmarks. When she''s ready to continue, the follower catches up and taps the leader on the hind legs.
Getting directions from a lead ant helped the followers find their way to food much more quickly—on average 201 seconds with help versus 310 seconds without. But showing the way is costly for the lead ants, which can move nearly four times faster on their own.
It takes longer partly because the followers make large loops as they go, probably in search for landmarks to find their way back with.
So why do the leaders take the time?
"They are very closely related nest mates and their society as a whole will benefit," study leader Nigel Franks of the University of Bristol told LiveScience.
In fact, the follower's return path was generally faster and straighter than its leader's before the tandem run. Often, the followers learn the path so well that they become leaders and help spread the time-saving information throughout the colony.
I wonder when the Kansas school board will start requiring that ants teach each other that evolution is only a theory.