Watch as Fire Ants Build a “Treadmilling” Raft to Escape Flood Water

Looking at the ants and the cells you can see a lot compared to the similarities between the two that they are both small and often exist in large numbers. However, new research has shown that under the right conditions, some ants actually discover their environment in a way that mirrors the movement of cells.

These floods under “the right conditions”, which fire ants, are usually able to protect thanks to their impressive raft formation skills. Fire ants have been recognized for some time to form these floating islands by attaching their bodies to attachments, but for the first time in new research, these ants have been caught “treadmilling” in their defense. The study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, focuses on fire ants (Solenoopsis invitica), which has been named for adequate mild burning sensations such as bites by unfortunates.

The average colony can have anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 ants, and when exposed to flood environments these individuals can band together and create an enthusiastic mass. The researchers of the new study wanted to observe in more detail what was going on in these rafts, so they left some ants to bob as a docked raft for a few hours and then review the footage. The videos reveal that the Fire Ant raft carries layers and supports a top layer of freely moving ants with an interconnected ant structural network. Moving to the level of structural ant-free ants and vice versa implies that the raft is not stationary but is regularly contracted and almost everyone on the board becomes random.

Moreover, asymmetries at the edge of the raft appear as free ants mix with their structural ant brothers, and these imperfections can lead to the establishment of protrusions like tethers. Although their emergence is spontaneous, they have the potential to facilitate search and to find a way to escape from trapped fire ants. After an accident in which the ants tried to escape the flood environment, the researchers observed that a few hours later the islands would become largely predatory, forming a strong force around the rod inside the tank that was anchored.