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The accuracy of Buffon's needle: a rule of thumb used by ants to estimate area

Article by Mugford, S. T.
  • Published in 2001
  • Added on
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Colonies of the ant Leptothorax albipennis naturally inhabit flat rock crevices. Scouts can determine, before initiating an emigration, if a nest has sufficient area to house their colony. They do so with a rule of thumb: the Buffon's needle algorithm. Based on a derivation from the classical statistical geometry of Comte George de Buffon in the 18th century, it can be shown that it is possible to estimate the area of a plane from the frequency of intersections between two sets of randomly scattered lines of known lengths. Our earlier work has shown that individual ants use this Buffon's needle algorithm by laying individual-specific trail pheromones on a first visit to a potential nest site and by assessing the frequency at which they intersect that path on a second visit. Nest area would be inversely proportional to the intersection frequency. The simplest procedure would be for individual ants to keep their first-visit path-length constant regardless of the size of the nest they are visiting. Here we show, for the first time, that this is the case. We also determine the potential quality of information that individual ants might have at their disposal from their own path-laying and path-crossing activities. Hence, we can determine the potential accuracy of nest area estimation by individual ants. Our findings suggest that ants using the Buffon's needle rule of thumb might obtain remarkably accurate assessments of nest area.

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Other information

issn
14657279
journal
Behavioral Ecology
number
6
pages
655--658
volume
12

BibTeX entry

@article{Mugford2001,
	abstract = {Colonies of the ant Leptothorax albipennis naturally inhabit flat rock crevices. Scouts can determine, before initiating an emigration, if a nest has sufficient area to house their colony. They do so with a rule of thumb: the Buffon's needle algorithm. Based on a derivation from the classical statistical geometry of Comte George de Buffon in the 18th century, it can be shown that it is possible to estimate the area of a plane from the frequency of intersections between two sets of randomly scattered lines of known lengths. Our earlier work has shown that individual ants use this Buffon's needle algorithm by laying individual-specific trail pheromones on a first visit to a potential nest site and by assessing the frequency at which they intersect that path on a second visit. Nest area would be inversely proportional to the intersection frequency. The simplest procedure would be for individual ants to keep their first-visit path-length constant regardless of the size of the nest they are visiting. Here we show, for the first time,  that this is the case. We also determine the potential quality of information that individual ants might have at their disposal from their own path-laying and path-crossing activities. Hence, we can determine the potential accuracy of nest area estimation by individual ants. Our findings suggest that ants using the Buffon's needle rule of thumb might obtain remarkably accurate  assessments of nest area.},
	author = {Mugford, S. T.},
	issn = 14657279,
	journal = {Behavioral Ecology},
	month = {nov},
	number = 6,
	pages = {655--658},
	title = {The accuracy of Buffon's needle: a rule of thumb used by ants to estimate area},
	url = {http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/content/12/6/655.full},
	volume = 12,
	year = 2001,
	urldate = {2015-03-09},
	collections = {Animals,Probability and statistics}
}