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.

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14 Responses to “Ant Bridge”

  1. Roberta July 8, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Very cool photographs!

  2. Unbiased Viewer July 8, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    Two words: Music Video!

  3. macromite July 9, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    Amazing. And The Hive is now on my list of must sees.

    • 6legs2many July 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

      Thanks. And the movie is a truly magnificent spectacle of bad science.

  4. myrmecos July 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Wow- those are great!

    • 6legs2many July 11, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

      Thanks. It was interesting to try to take them without falling camera first into a puddle of fire ants.

  5. Robin July 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm #


  6. christatothemax July 11, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    A friend of mine linked me this post on Facebook today, and thought I’d enjoy it. Boy was he right! I enjoy the story and images quite a bit. The whole idea of what these insects are willing to do to survive is fascinating as well! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Unbiased Viewer August 11, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    Hey 6 Legs! When is your next post???

  8. visit here October 14, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    this link


  1. Ants make a bridge – MYRMECOS - Insect Photography - Insect Pictures - July 11, 2011

    […] Check this out- Alison at 6legs2many has an astounding photographic series of a fire ant bridge: […]

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