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How Fire Ants Collectively Use Their Bodies To Build High Vertical Towers

March 4th, 2019

Some unfortunate people know from experience how unpleasant it is to sustain a fire ant sting. The pain is reportedly excruciating and their sting has even resulted in death to individuals who suffered a severe allergic reaction upon envenomation. Fire ants are an invasive species in the United States and they were introduced into Georgia during the 1950s. The seasonal dispersal flights of fire ants can take them as far as western Texas and North Carolina. Although fire ants are rightfully hated for posing a threat to both the environment as well as to public health, they are actually interesting creatures once you get up-close and study them. Researchers have already documented the ability of fire ants to form rafts by linking their bodies together in order to safely ferry their queen across a body of water, but, as it turns out, they can also form towers by piling their bodies atop one another.

Obviously, ants are not large animals, therefore, they have to pull some clever tricks in order to escape predators or environmental threats. If it were not for their clever abilities, they would not have evolved to become one of the most diverse and widespread insect groups on the planet. According to researchers, fire ants build towers in order to reach areas where they can find refuge from a threat. The fire ants seem to do this by following “rules”. For example, before fire ants build a tower, worker ants wonder around until they find a free area of space, and then, they basically pile atop one another until they can reach their desired location. When fire ants build rafts, the workers link their bodies together horizontally to maximize space and surface area. However, when these ants build towers, they are able to stand atop one another vertically, like an acrobatic act. In some cases, fire ants build towers consisting of 30 bodies stacked vertically. The end result looks a bit like the Eiffel Tower, as fire ant towers are naturally broad-based and thin out toward the top. Since ants can hold 750 times their body weight, such a feat is no challenge for them.

Have you ever seen social insects indulging in a bizarre group behavior?

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