Monday, 17 July 2017

Fire Ants Build Sinking 'Eiffel Towers' from Their Own Bodies

By Charles Q. Choi, Live Science Contributor | July 12, 2017 06:08am ET

Fire ants can build miniature look-alikes of the Eiffel Tower from their own bodies, and the insects perpetually rebuild the structures to save them from collapsing, a new study finds.

The insects crawl up and down these structures in a phenomenon that resembles a slow-motion water fountain in reverse, the researchers said.

The new study's finding could help lead to swarms of robots that can use their own bodies to form complex 3D structures, the scientists added.

Building rafts
Fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) evolved in the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil. In 2011, Craig Tovey, a biologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and his colleagues discovered the way in which colonies of these insects can shape themselves into raftsthat can stay afloat for months.

Fire ants can use sticky pads at the ends of their feet to link to each other and form a pancake-shaped raft. The 2011 study found that each ant's exoskeleton can trap air bubbles and become slightly water-repellent. Weaving a colony together leads to a more powerful waterproofing effect that keeps the raft dry while afloat in the water.

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