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Meeting Abstract

61-7   09:30 - 09:45  Fire ant pontoon bridge: a self-assembled dynamic functional structure Zeng, H*; Briones, J; Avinery, R; Li, S; Richa, A; Goldman, DI; Sasaki, T; University of Georgia, Athens, GA; Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ; Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA; Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA; Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ; Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA; University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Ant colonies dominate terrestrial ecosystems as they self-organize and regulate work efficiently as a group. We recently discovered that fire ants, Solenopsis invicta, collectively form pontoon bridges using their bodies on a water surface, allowing nestmates to traverse this living bridge to reach a food source. Unlike bridge-building behavior in other ant species, which live in remote habitats and are challenging to maintain in the laboratory, fire ant pontoon bridge formation can be easily and repeatedly induced, enabling experimental investigation of various parameters governing the self-assembled bridge formation. In each experiment, roughly 8000 workers and two queens are housed in a temporary tray, where they are induced to build a bridge on the water in a large petri-dish 14 cm in diameter. In the center of the dish, 1 gram of food (peanut butter mix) was placed above the water on a plaster block. The ant pontoon bridges consist of approximately 500 ants 5 cm in length and 2.5 cm in width. The bridges gradually narrow after ant trafficking stabilized. To rationalize these dynamics, we developed a suite of computational models that help identify fundamental features and test hypotheses for individual behavioral rules in self-assembled bridge formation. This study helps to decipher living dynamic structure assembly principles and advance self-organization algorithms for robotic swarms.