Fire Ants Build Rafts

Red fire ants have an amazing ability to survive floods. As waters rise, the ants stream from their nests, start gripping onto ants beside them, and form living ant “rafts” that float and carry them to safety. This is an extraordinary engineering feat, considering each ant is denser than water and would normally sink.

New research this year, using a CT scan, has given us a closer look at how they do this. Each ant connects to another ant between 8 and 20 times—all six legs connect to another ant, and each ant is contacted many times by neighbor ants. Besides connecting to neighbor ants, each ant actually pushes other ants away, which introduces air pockets between their bodies. By doing this, the mass of heavy ants easily floats downstream or to the nearest solid ground.

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