When Amazon flood waters come, fire ants link their limbs together to form a floating life raft which can sometimes float for months. Researchers wanted to find out just how strong these rafts were, and it turns out that they are the equivalent of one man being suspended by six elephants. Here’s how they did it:
The researchers kidnapped a colony from a nearby roadside, dropped spoonfuls of ants into water, counted the number of insects in rafts of a fixed size, and measured the walking speed of free ants that were walking along the top. They also froze ant rafts in liquid nitrogen to capture their structure. They even glued a live ant onto the bottom of a glass slide, then lassoed the waist of a second ant with a small loop of elastic. The first ant gripped the dangling second ant with its claws, and the researchers tested the strength of the ants’ grip by pulling on the elastic waistband with a known force. Ants AND scientists are totally cool!