Fire Ants Create Life Raft in 100 Seconds Flat

The cen­tral intel­li­gence of ants – the way ant colonies orga­nize them­selves with­out a leader and get things done – con­tin­ues to amaze sci­en­tists and sci­ence writ­ers alike. Back in 2003, Deb­o­rah Gor­don, a Stan­ford biol­o­gist, gave a whole TED Talk called “How Do Ants Know What to Do?,” which sheds light on how ants can form stun­ning­ly com­plex, lead­er­less sys­tems. Then, sev­er­al years lat­er, Radi­o­Lab con­tin­ued to mull over Gor­don’s fas­ci­nat­ing research in one of its very first episodes.

Now we get this great bit of video. It comes to us via researchers at the Geor­gia Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, and it shows how ants, when placed in water, can form a com­plete­ly water­tight raft in under two min­utes. “They’ll gath­er up all the eggs in the colony and will make their way up through the under­ground net­work of tun­nels, and when the flood waters rise above the ground, they’ll link up togeth­er in these mas­sive rafts,” says Nathan J. Mlot, an engi­neer­ing stu­dent involved in the project. Amaz­ing­ly, even the ants at the bot­tom of the raft nev­er get sub­merged. They all sur­vive, which rais­es the ques­tion: Can this research lead to new floata­tion devices for the rest of us to use?

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