No bee or ant has a blueprint for coordinating the foraging of the colony; yet activity on the colony level is astonishing efficient. How do social insects achieve effective global coordination from simple local behavior?
Anderson, C., J. J. Boomsma, and J. J. Bartholdi, III (2002). Task partitioning in insect societies: bucket brigades, Insectes Sociaux 49(2):1-10. This paper explains how a bucket brigade forms when ants convey food back to the nest and speculates on the biological advantages. Here is a summary of these ideas.
Anderson C. and J. J. Bartholdi, III (2000). Centralized versus decentralized control in manufacturing: Lessons from social insects, Proceedings of Complexity and Complex Systems in Industry, University of Warwick, September 2000. I. P. McCarthy and T. Rakotobe-Joel, Eds. The University of Warwick, U.K. [ISBN 0 902683 50 0] pp 92-105.
The pattern and effectiveness of forager allocation among food sources in honey bee colonies, with T. D. Seeley, C. A. Tovey, and J. H. Vande Vate; Journal of Theoretical Biology 160:23-40 (1993). How does the colony organize the harvesting of food? Should honeybees hire management consultants to improve the efficiency of their food-gathering? As you might guess, they do quite well; and the efficiency arises spontaneously from the information delays and feedbacks in the waggle dance. A summary of this paper appears in The Wisdom of the Hive: The social physiology of honeybee colonies by T. D. Seeley, Harvard University Press,
In February and March of 1999 I was finally able to observe the weaver ant in Singapore. This is a quite aggressive species: Even individuals will charge a person; and battalions of them will leap out of their tree on a perceived threat. But their most amazing feature is that they cooperate to pull leaves together while one of their nestmates "sews" the leaves to make a nest. The ant that "sews" accomplishes this by holding one of colony’s larvae and touching it alternately, back and forth, from leaf to leaf while the larvae exudes its silk (like spider’s silk).
Figure 1 shows two of the weaver ants standing on a nest in a tree. The white material between the leaves is the silk holding the nest together.
In August 1999 I first saw the Malaysian giant forest ant in the Bukit Timah nature preserve. This is a species of Camponatus or carpenter ant. Solitary individuals forage along the forest floor. They are alarmingly large, an inch in length, but quite mild mannered.