Archive | 1:00 am

Ant Bridge

8 Jul
A raft of flooded out fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) forms gradually form a path across the water.

A raft of flooded out fire ants gradually form a path across the water.

A few weeks ago we had a big downpour after a long dry spell.  A&M’s an old campus and doesn’t drain well, so a number of sidewalks and fields were temporarily flooded.  Walking along one of these sidewalks I spotted a fire ant colony that had flooded out into three large rafts of stranded ants.  This rafting behavior is a natural adaptation of fire ants to survive flooding, wherein the workers form a living floatation device to preserve their fellow workers, brood, and queens.

Flooded fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) form a living bridge to dry land.

Flooded fire ants form a living bridge across the water to dry land.

I went home to get my camera, and by the time I returned that afternoon, the rafts of fire ants had managed something I haven’t seen before.  They had spread out and connected up to form a living bridge across the water to dry land.  Ants ran back and forth along a path composed of their living sisters, while those at the surface of the water tested the area ahead with their antennae.  On land a trail of ants was busily moving brood into the dry refuge of a light pole.

An elite pest control agent battles a tentacle of sentient ants with a laser (Source: The Hive).

The reaching trails of ants called to mind a sci-fi/horror film wherein a sentient supercolony of ants formed huge hovering tentacles to drag the humans’ boat to shore.  The pest control people had lasers.  It was a pretty awesome film.  Actually, if you haven’t seen the movie The Hive I highly recommend it, if only for the bizarre plot and ridiculous pseudo-science.   Also, the best movie quote ever:

“We are NOT going to negotiate with ANTS.”

Fictional movies aside, reality is pretty impressive all on it’s own.  I took a whole bunch of pictures of the bridging fire ants, as seen below.  I took some video, too, so hopefully I’ll get that posted when I get the chance to edit something together.

Close up of rafting fire ants in a flooded field.

Forking trail of floating fire ants.

Two isolated rafts of fire ants converge to form a bridge to dry land.

Close up: A floating aft of fire ants bridges a flooded field.

A living raft of fire ants bridges a flooded field. To the right, an alate is visible traversing the bridge to safety.

Related posts: