Oh, Great

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.

Today, floating.

Tomorrow – hijacking planes?

9 thoughts on “Oh, Great

  1. The ants don’t have to hijack airplanes. They can catch us when we’re most vulnerable: standing in the security lines with our shoes off.

  2. Hmmm. I’m trying to figure out which of the 24 words in the comment I just tried to post was the naughty one that sent all the rest of them into moderation, clinging to each other like ants trapping air bubbles.

  3. Curiously one natural enemy to the fire-ant is a particular fly: Pseudacteon tricuspus which pierces an ants outer cuticle and deposits an egg underneath. The egg quickly hatches into a fly maggot that moves into the ants head. When the maggot is mature, it releases an enzyme that causes the ants head to fall off. One female phorid fly usually contains a hundred or more torpedoshaped eggs, so she can make multiple attacks.

    Insects have some nasty (if not morbidly entertaining) ways of dispatching one another.

  4. Brings back memories. I moved to Florida to a nice, gated community. I had an orange grove across the street.

    When I bought the house I was given the one-time option of adding exterior pest-control for $50/month adder to the HOA fees. The worst decision I ever made regarding that house was turning that down.

    Being a northerner I never thought I’d spend that much on pest control. In reality, I had to drop fire ant stuff about twice a month to make walking in the grass safe.

    I’ll take our mosquitoes any day rather than go back to fighting all the bugs in south Florida.

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