Sunday, 15 June 2014

How Fire Ants Form Living Balls When Faced With Water

June 13, 2014

Alan McStravick for – Your Universe Online

Solenopsis invicta – the destroyer of picnics and bane of exposed limbs everywhere – is better known by its common name, the red fire ant. Aside from S. invicta‘s propensity to swarm and attack, it turns out this insect is also one of the more talented engineers in the animal kingdom. Never is this more true than when the colony, threatened by flooding from rain, a sprinkler or a borderline psychopathic child armed only with a cup of water, streams out of the mound en masse rapidly assembling into a raft.
Credit: Georgia Institute of Technology

This and other protective structures are formed by each ant gripping onto its nearest neighbor. The mystery behind this behavior is based on the fact that, individually, an ant is denser than water and is therefore at a very real risk of sinking. So just how do they manage to float to safety as a large group? “You can consider them as both a fluid and a solid,” explained David Hu of the Georgia Institute of Technology in a recent statement. Hu’s interest in S. invicta stems from the relatively large size of the insect and how that scale presents a more easily observable model of their feats of engineering.

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