Plants and Animals

Video shows fire ants are capable of acting like a liquid and a solid

December 18, 2013 | by Lisa Winter

Photo credit: Maggie Corley

Aside from being one of the most annoying and infuriating creatures on the planet, fire ants can be pretty cool. They have incredible strength and move very cohesively as a group, which has garnered recent attention from physicists.

A group from the Georgia Institute of Technology put together a video presentation for last month’s American Physical Society meeting. In it, groups of fire ants were shown to be able to flow through a funnel like a thick, syrupy liquid. They were also able to be pressed down and rebound like a rubbery solid.

More than just a parlor trick, studying how the ants move within the group could help the field of robotics by allowing small pieces to self-assemble into larger structures. Because a disturbed group of ants can also quickly return to their position, they could also influence the next generation of self-healing materials.

 

[Header Image: Maggie Corley, aka flickr user Nile Red. "more balls of fire ants..." Used via CC BY 2.0