Fire ants are not just amazingly good at stinging and annoying humans – they also have some pretty incredible tactics to deal with floods.
Flood waters continue to ravage South Carolina after heavy storms the past week. As photographers came to report on the chaos and brutality of Mother Nature, photojournalist Chris Murray decided to capture one of her more delicate moments. The film, shot for WSAV in Dorchester County, shows thousands of fire ants grouping together and floating on the water like a raft.
This fascinating little feat takes less than two minutes to assemble yet can save whole colonies of ants. The fire ants release an oily substance which helps them to clump together. Their exoskeleton also has hydrophobic qualities. This, combined with the surface tension properties of water, means a cluster of ants can float on water with no problem. This trick is another example of swarm intelligence, which many species of insects exhibit. A single fire ant may not be clever, but their colonies are.
“If the water rises, they kind of all grab a hold of each other, and they can do this for several days, until they reach higher ground,” said Tim Davis, an entomologist and Clemson University senior extension agent, speaking to USA Today. He added that that this technique is not just useful for escaping floods, but also is used as a method of migration.
An impressive behavior, no doubt, but not impervious to frothy suds. A small amount of soap breaks up the surface tension of the water and causes the raft to sink.
Main image credit: Tim Keppens via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0