The Good New: We will probably eventually win the war on terrorism, one way or the other.
The Bad News: Our biggest opponent may be yet to come; scientists are learning more about the ingenuity of the Fire Ant:
Ants have exoskeletons that are naturally hydrophobic, or water repellant. A single ant can walk on water because of the buoyancy of the air bubbles trapped next to its body, and the water’s own surface tension. However, when thousands of ants stand on top of each other, their multiplied weight should cause them to sink. But for years, biologists have observed fire ant colonies floating down flood plains and rivers in their native South America.
For the first time, a group of engineers has attacked the question of ant flotation from a physics perspective. Ants float as a group because they can harness the power of nearby air bubbles. Grasping each other’s mandibles or front legs with a force 400 times their body weight, the ants are able to trap small pockets of air between them — like a group floatation device.
“The ants are so tightly knit together, that air pockets form between the water and the ants, and water cannot penetrate through any part,” said Nathan Mlot, a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and one of the study’s authors.
“Ants are like little computers, acting on a few simple rules of engagement,” said Mlot.
Tomorrow – hijacking planes?