Note: This is not the same group of ants referred to in the story.
“While it sounds like something out of a horror movie, the technique by fire ants has been used for eons to escape flooding and migrate long distances, according to Tim Davis, an entomologist and Clemson University senior extension agent”, USA Today reports. Because science is the only real magic, ants are able to gather their eggs and start weaving living life rafts when waters star to rise, a skill that’s become essential during the historic flooding now plaguing the area.
While this may seem unusual, it’s actually very common. But how they stay afloat has puzzled biologists for years.
A pile of 500 ants floats on water in a laboratory. They studied the phenomenon.
Researchers first observed this unique survival strategy when studying fire ant populations in 2011.
“Imagine thousands of people linking their arms together, but everyone has six arms instead of two, and all of their limbs have tiny hooks and adhesive pads on them,”said David Hu, professor at Georgia Institute of Technology”.
Their exteriors are already water repelling. The team calculated that each ant’s grip strength was equivalent to a force 400 times its body weight.
Ants in soapy water will struggle to swim and eventually sink, the study found. This behavior allows entire colonies of fire ants to survive the floods, provided they can find dry land within a few days. In water emergencies, they can strap the queen and larvae onto the top of the raft to preserve the precious cargo.