JUL 29, 2017 7:31 AM PDT

Why You Can't Easily Drown Fire Ants

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

For many people, fire ants conjure thoughts of pain. After all, the 'fire' in the name reflects more than just their red color. Unlike their more plain cousins, fire ants inflict double pain because they can both bite with their mouths and sting with venom from their abdomen.

But physicists and engineers are intrigued by fire ants other unique characteristic: their ability to stick so closely with each other that they resemble a material. It's this ability that makes it nearly impossible for these ants to drown - in a flood, the ants link together to form a raft that floats on the water surface. And if there's a force bearing down on the live raft, the ants rearrange themselves to form air pockets so that they can breathe under water.

Physicists describe fire ants as being 'viscoelastic,' which means that as a group, they can behave both a solid and a fluid. And further investigation into how fire ants achieve this could mean great things for the field of materials physics and even robotics.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 13, 2020
Neuroscience
Can COVID-19 Be Diagnosed by Vocal Patterns?
JUL 13, 2020
Can COVID-19 Be Diagnosed by Vocal Patterns?
Researchers from the Lincoln Laboratory have found early evidence that subtle changes in peoples' voices may indicat ...
JUL 22, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Scientists Obtained Clues on the Mysteriously Fast Movement of Earth's Magnetic Poles
JUL 22, 2020
Scientists Obtained Clues on the Mysteriously Fast Movement of Earth's Magnetic Poles
Earth's magnetic poles have been on a hasty move in the last two decades. Recently, the geoscientists at Leeds Unive ...
JUL 27, 2020
Neuroscience
Bigger Brains Linked to More Manual Dexterity in Apes
JUL 27, 2020
Bigger Brains Linked to More Manual Dexterity in Apes
Although people are very skilled at using their hands, they take a long time to master how to use them. Meanwhile, for m ...
JUL 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
How Many Missions to Mars Have Been Successful?
JUL 31, 2020
How Many Missions to Mars Have Been Successful?
It’s commonly said that roughly half of all missions to Mars have succeeded- while roughly half have failed. But a ...
AUG 12, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Earthlike Planets May Orbit Supermassive Black Holes
AUG 12, 2020
Earthlike Planets May Orbit Supermassive Black Holes
Supermassive black holes are enormous wells of gravity that bind galaxies together and emit bright X-ray beams. Known to ...
SEP 10, 2020
Plants & Animals
Saving Myanmar's Critically Endangered Turtles
SEP 10, 2020
Saving Myanmar's Critically Endangered Turtles
New images of hatchling Burmese roofed turtles have renewed hope to save this critically endangered species. Late last m ...
Loading Comments...