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.
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