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South Carolina Flood Reveals Unique Ant Survival Skill: Forming a 'Living' Life Raft

Oct 06, 2015 05:59 PM EDT
Fire Ants
A floating colony of fire ants team up to survive recent floods in South Carolina.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

A photograph of a floating colony of ants that its photographer, a Fox news reporter covering the South Carolina flood, mistook for mud at first glance is making the rounds of the Internet – and for good reason. The ant's cooperative survival tenchique is a special one to behold as they link up by the thousands, forming a giant and very bouyant "living life raft."

Researchers first observed this unique survival strategy when studying fire ant populations in 2011. For their study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers collected fire ants and then dunked groups of them in water to see what would happen.

"When flood waters rise above the ground, they'll link up together in these massive rafts," Nathan J. Mlot, who conducted the study as graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told National Geographic. "They'll gather up all the eggs in the colony and will make their way up through the underground network of tunnels to link up."

The fire ants are able to float thanks to the science of surface tension, which, in this case, means the weight of the ant colony is not enough to penetrate the surface, so they simply ride the waves like water striders. However, if other liquids – soap, for instance – were to mix with the water, the surface tension would be lowered and the ants would drown.

But if left undisturbed, the ants can remain joined and floating together for weeks – just in time for flood waters to recede.

A video of the floating ants in South Carolina can be found online

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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