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.
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.
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.