Ants build rafts
Ants form themselves into rafts to protect the workers and queens during a flood. (D. Galvez/PLOS ONE)
Ants can be found in nearly every corner of the world — meaning they’re one of the few species that has to deal with nearly every kind of weather. For ants that live on flood plains, rising, rushing waters are a real threat, and it turns out they’ve developed a pretty ingenious way to deal with them.
When researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, led by Jessica Purcell, flooded ants in their lab, the insects built a highly structured raft out of, well, themselves. The ants banded together, keeping their queen well protected in the middle of the raft, with the larvae and pupae — collectively known as the “brood” — at the bottom. Using this strategy, about 80 percent of the brood survived, and more than 95 percent of the worker ants survived, Purcell said, though in nature, the ants would also have to deal with other sources of danger including fish, birds and cold water.
The rafting strategy, which utilizes the fact that the brood are the most buoyant members of the ant colony, shows “how these ants take advantage of the properties of all members of the society when responding to an emergency situation,” Purcell told weather.com.
Rafting is not the only surprisingly complex behavior ants exhibit. Click through to learn more about what we know about the ants’ world.
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