The Saharan silver ant has long been under the scrutiny of researchers. Only now has its silver hairy coating been analyzed to understand just how remarkably it protects the insect from scorching sun.
Living in the harsh conditions of the Saharan desert, the Sahara silver ant has developed a number of thermally protective mechanisms to fend elevated temperatures and solar radiation.
The shimmering silver shielding of the Saharan silver ant is remarkable in itself, but it also provides interesting cues to how similar technologies could be developed using the silver hair coating as an inspiration.
The Saharan silver ant is known as the Cataglyphis bombycina. Columbia University researchers looked at the tiny insects through an electron microscope to understand how the silver hair coating helps the insect survive the conditions of its habitat, market by the unbearable heat.
One aspect that makes the Saharan silver ant even more intriguing is that not only does it survive the scorching sun, but it prefers to go out for food during the most elevated temperatures in Saharan mid-day.
It has to move quickly and gather its necessary nourishment in less than 10 minutes. Nonetheless, it prefers to do so at top heats when other predators are not out.
The paper detailing the findings, which was published in Science Magazine talks about the process of analysis of Saharan silver ant. A few of them were shaved and placed in an artificial environment simulating the conditions of the Sahara desert and were compared to those who kept their hairy silver coating intact.
Of course, the first group fared less well without their protective shield. A section of the micro hairs revealed that the silver hairs has a triangular display that is responsible for adjusting the body temperature of the insects while at the same time reflecting the solar radiation.
Nanfang Yu, lead researcher on the study, commented:
“There are two effects – first in the shorter wavelengths of the solar radiation spectrum, secondly in the longer wavelength range of the thermal radiative spectrum. In the solar spectrum, which is shorter wavelengths, the hairs scatter light very strongly.”
These triangular formation of the silver hair aids the Saharan silver ant with the process of internal reflection, which fends off the light of sun, not only due to the light metal shade of the hairs.
Other specific mechanism that the Saharan silver ant developed in the unfriendly environment are its long legs and the lack of silver hair on the underside of the body.
Compared to other ant species, the Saharan silver ant has longer legs that keep it further from the heated Sahara sand. Combined with the lack of silver hair coating on the ant’s underside, the body temperature keeps at low levels, ensuring the insect’s survival.
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