Despite widespread panic caused by high water which killed dozens of people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, the tiny animals kept calm while they were evacuating the area at their own pace.
Fire ants can create the ingenious rafts in less than a couple of minutes, people reported. As soon as they sense flooding, worker ants gather together and use their jaws, legs and claws to stick to one another.
One such raft was recently recorded by journalists in Dorchester County, South Carolina. But other reports showed that many other ant rafts made an appearance in regions devastated by floods.
Researchers said that indeed the tropical creatures can act real fast in emergency situations and build a raft in less than 100 seconds. The adhesive pads on their legs and claws help them glue together. Additionally, they are helped by their covering which is an effective water repellent and the oily fluid they release on smooth surfaces, which allows them to stick on those surfaces.
The pancake-shaped rafts allow fire ants to survive whatever type of flood. But their quick solution does not keep them completely safe. While they are ‘glued’ to one another within the raft, they are easy prey to their predators.
Moreover, the ant raft ca sink really quickly if something manages to break the surface tension of water which keeps the ‘vehicles’ afloat. Researchers said that a few drops of liquid soap are enough to destroy a raft in a matter of seconds.
Researchers noted another phenomenon. The tiny animals place their most praised values, the queen and larvae at the core of the raft. The queen and larvae do not touch the water. They stay on top of the bodies of worker ants that form the raft. The fine hairy coat of ants attracts enough air that the ants at the very bottom of the raft continue to float.
Fire ants can stay on a raft for weeks, but they do need to find a dry patch of land to rebuild colony. Plus, in water they are at risk of being eating by predators such as fish, which they pick the tiny insects off one by one when they find an ant raft. If too many ants vanish, the raft and colony can collapse.
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