Another Reason Why Ants Don’t Have Traffic Jams

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There’s a story going around about how ants never have traffic jams. It’s a fine bit of science about how ants adjust their speed and don’t overtake each other, leading to smooth, fast speeds down the formicid freeway.

But I wouldn’t recommend humans adopt ant traffic management strategies. The physics of being small gives ants an enormous advantage.

Ant are tiny compared to us, and collisions at their size involve vanishingly small forces (remember F = [m][a]?), even at high speeds. Ants can cruise along with nothing to lose; the cost of veering into an errant stone or oncoming traffic is a slight bump, barely felt. They pick up and move along.

Cars? Not so much. You can imagine how much quicker rush hour traffic would move if drivers were immune to accidents, fearless and fast. People would drive like ants.

7 thoughts on “Another Reason Why Ants Don’t Have Traffic Jams”

  1. Meat ants have traffic jams. They have them when a large human has accidentally run a wheelbarrow over an ant trail. Foraging sisters get so distressed that they run around nipping each other. It looks like arguing, but it happens anytime one of the sisters has fallen by the wayside for whatever reason.

  2. p=mv is more applicable here, Alex, not F=ma… Not to mention the complications of double-tripod walking vs rolling… And why are you giving this study even more attention? Like the NPR story said — “There’s one other tiny problem. Nagar is a physicist, not an ant man. I’ve talked with ant researchers who say that, for at least some species of ants, one will overtake another on the ant highway. And when the volume of ants is high enough, ants do jam up.”

  3. I think this is an interesting case of trying to popularize science, but doing so in a way that will surely lead to misinformation/wrong conclusions. Is it worth the extra press?

  4. The post was good but the everyone who commented on this make it more interesting. This is too much information to discuss in terms of commenting. Great work guys and thanks for sharing this post.

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