Thursday, 14 April 2016

Reflective Saharan silver ant hairs thermoregulate, create bright color

Ant body hairs cause total internal reflection of light, prevent overheating

Date: April 13, 2016
Source: PLOS

The body hairs of the Saharan silver ant cause total internal reflection of light to make the ants almost ten times more reflective, preventing overheating and yielding their silver sheen, according to a study published April 13, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Quentin Willot from the University Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, and colleagues.

The Saharan silver ant is one of the terrestrial living organisms best-adapted for high temperatures, and can forage in the desert even when temperatures exceed 50 degrees Celsius. It has previously been shown that its dorsal body hairs are responsible for its silver color and help prevent overheating. However, the details of the hairs' optical properties had not been elucidated.

The authors of the present study used a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) to examine the ant hairs and trace the path of incoming light rays. They also compared normal 'hairy' ant samples with ants that had been shaved, measuring how light was reflected and how quickly ants heated under simulated sunlight.

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