Notes and shorts from around the world


Groupthink antics
Individually, ants are not all that clever. Outside their nests, they wander around seemingly randomly, hoping to run into bits of food, but the process is more organised than it seems. When an ant finds food, it bites off a  chunk, then carries it back to the nest, leaving a trail of pheromones which others can follow. Even then, owing to their large numbers, the ants reach the food from many different directions. Since the pheromones evaporate quickly, the shorter the trail the stronger the scent, with the result that the most efficient route is used most often. Each time, more pheromones are laid, creating a self-reinforcing effect.
Thus the ants end up marching in
a long line along the forest floor, a process that saves them time and energy.
“While a single ant is certainly not smart, the collective acts in a way that I’m tempted to call intelligent,” said Jürgen Kurths of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the co-author of a recent study on ants. “The ants collectively form a highly efficient complex network.”
No freedom for ferrets
New York mayor Bill de Blasio once recommended a repeal of a longstanding ban on the keeping of ferrets as pets in the city, but the city’s Board of Health refused. The sharp-toothed mammals were outlawed in 1999 by former mayor Rudy Giuliani because of fears that they might spread rabies and bite children. The city’s department of health recommended lifting the ban on the grounds that the creatures, which are legal in 48 American states, are no more dangerous than other pets. At the time of the ban, Giuliani was involved in an infamous radio exchange with David Guthartz of New York Ferrets’ Rights Advocacy. “There’s something deranged about you,” he told the ferret fancier. “You need somebody to help you. This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness.”
Paradise lost?
A Canadian couple who lost a winning lottery ticket have finally been able to claim their $48 million prize.
When Hakeem Norisu realised his numbers had come up, he was so anxious about losing the ticket he taped it to his body, then decided it would be better to entrust it to his wife, who promptly lost it. Weeks of frantic searching followed. The couple had all but given up hope when they got a call from a fellow parishioner at their church, who told them she had found the ticket, which had their name and address on the back, under a pew.
Bons mots
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
– Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher


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