Surprising Swarms

Surprising Swarms

Is there a leader of the pack?

Have a look at this video:

It shows a flock of starlings coming into roost in Rome. It could also be called a swarm of starlings. A swarm is a group of many animals in the air or on the ground. Starlings stay together in large groups for safety in numbers. In a large group, an individual starling has less chance of being eaten by a predator.

Science of swarms

Many scientists are studying swarms, because there's a lot we don't know about them. How do all the animals know which way to go? There doesn't seem to be a leader. In a flock of starlings, no single bird calls out directions, but the flock all flies together. How?

Have you ever walked down a street and seen someone looking up? Did it make you look up too? Humans tend to copy the behaviour around them. Iain Couzin studies collective decision making - what makes one animal copy the behaviour of another animal? Could this help explain why swarms happen? Have a look at this video of Iain Couzin discussing his work. Watch out for the cannibal locusts! The video is here:

Swarm Mentality from Scienceline on Vimeo.

Next time you see a flock of birds, or school of fish, have a look at what they're doing. Test Iain Couzin's hypothesis. Do all the individual animals align with their neighbour? Is this what drives the swarm's movement?

Curriculum information

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