Not everything that counts can be counted: Ants use multiple metrics for a single nest trait

Nigel R. Franks, Anna Dornhaus, Bonnie G. Metherell, Toby R. Nelson, Sophie A.J. Lanfear, William S. Symes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


There are claims in the literature that certain insects can count. We question the generality of these claims and suggest that summation rather than counting (sensu stricto) is a more likely explanation. We show that Temnothorax albipennis ant colonies can discriminate between potential nest sites with different numbers of entrances. However, our experiments suggest that the ants use ambient light levels within the nest cavity to assess the abundance of nest entrances rather than counting per se. Intriguingly, Weber's Law cannot explain the ants' inaccuracy. The ants also use a second metric, independent of light, to assess and discriminate against wide entrances. Thus, these ants use at least two metrics to evaluate one nest trait: the configuration of the portals to their potential homes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-169
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1583
StatePublished - Jan 22 2006


  • Ants
  • Counting
  • Decision-making
  • House hunting
  • Social insects
  • Weber's Law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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