(Picture from Quanta Magazine. Credit – Vaishakh Manohar.)
I first learned about how ants work in a cooperative manner in a book that my daughter had bought me for Christmas. The book was all about trails. (She had figured out the perfect book for my interests!) There is a chapter in this book about how trails historically came into being, and how these have, over time, led to our modern day system of roads, railroad tracks, and other connections for human travel.
Trails have existed for ages. The concept is not the creation of humans. Animals of different kinds, using different skills, and for different purposes, have created trails. There was, and still is, no real planning involved (the way humans would define it) in the creation of animal trails. It is all tied to their inbuilt instinct to survive and exist.
Ants have been creating trails for a long time. The notable thing about the behavior of ants is that in spite of the fact that they do not have any significant level of individual intelligence, they show a great deal of collective or cooperative intelligence that lets them be effective in complex tasks. (They do not even depend on the presence of an occasional “smart” ant that can serve as a leader.) The book describes how their processes work for creating very efficient trails. (There is even a kind of ant that is blind that is still very effective at this.) Humans are now trying to understand if any of these processes are useful for our own existence.
Anyway, the article I have linked to is fascinating. Make sure to watch the videos!