Floating Fire Ant Rafts Form Mesmerizing Amoeba-Like Shapes

Birds made of feather flock together. This rule is also followed by fish from a school. To protect their members, animals that flock, school or huddle together, hive, pack, or aggregate in nature tend to form close-knit groups. This reduces the group's exposure to external elements such as cold and predators.The fire ants also swarm but in a slightly different way. Although they will form a floating raft if they come into contact with water, they don't always stay together in a tight group. A few capricious ants may wander from the safe zone and throw themselves off the edge, creating finger-like protrusions above the water. As previously reported in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, this projection-producing behavior can last for hours.For a reason, animal groups are very strict. David Hu, a Georgia Institute of Technology mechanical engineer, said that anything sticking out could be cut off. The article's findings surprised Hu, who noted that ants tend to stay close to their queens. Hu says that ants who are separated from their rafts won't survive. Hu also believes it poses a risk for the ants. Researchers found that the ants appear to have eight-inch fingers, and they are moving them without fail.Many insects can work together to create amazing structures. Few species can assemble as well as the fire ant. They use their bodies to build structures by simply gripping one another with their jaws and claws. A fire ant by itself is not very impressive. When you combine them, the insects exhibit what is known as swarm intelligence. Individuals work together to follow simple rules and produce complex collective behavior.Franck Vernerey is a soft matter physicist at Colorado's University of Colorado and senior author of the study on fire ants. It is flowing by itself, producing long, protruding protrusions that are then retracted.The researchers took fire ants out of the wild and placed them in a water tank. They then studied the formation of protrusions in the ants. A rod poked out from the water surface to allow the ants to attach to it, and the raft would not drift to the walls. Researchers expected that the ants would form a circle around the rod and then huddle in a pancake-like shape. The ant boat began to form tentacle-like structures over the next few hours. This made the raft appear less like a pancake but more like an amoebaan with a mind.According to Linda HooperBui, an environmental scientist at Louisiana State University, protrusion formation may help fire ants search for new ground in a flood environment. It's similar to casting a broad net and hoping it catches. She says that they have never been described in the same way as [the researchers]. It was quite novel. She says the environmental aspect of the study is crucial to allow scientists to better understand the ants' movements and help them establish new habitats in the wild after flooding. She says that the more information we have about them, then the better.Fire ants are originally from South America and have now invaded the United States. They can cause severe damage to human-made machinery and livestock, and they can also endanger people, livestock, and crops with their powerful stings. Their spread has been accelerated by climate change. Hu says they can solve these extraordinary problems. The whole of the world will be covered by fire ants.Vernereys team noticed that the raft's innards were turning when they examined it closely. It appeared that the raft was made up of two layers. The bottom layer had ants floating on it, and the top layer had ants tripping over their support mates. The ants on the top would wander off the edge to create or aid in the growth of protrusions. To replenish topside ants, the ants in the submerged portion would eventually crawl under the raft and through the middle. Researchers call this treadmilling, the movement of ants in the raft.Robert Wagner, a University of Colorado Boulder materials scientist and lead author of the study, describes the whole thing as a conveyor belt that looks like a doughnut. The ant swarm is a fluid that can be sustained for a long time, he says.Individual ants can create emergent behaviors, such as flowing like fluid despite not having a command center. Wagner suggests that congregating fireants could be thought of as a material capable of changing its shape. These ants, which are a swarm of ants, can assume any form that suits their purpose. They can stiffen into solids or oozing with goodisintegration or regroup to adapt to hostile environments.Although humankind has not yet produced such a material, nature is filled with these types of systems. These range from animals that form groups to microbial clusters that pulse with purpose. Researchers hope to study fireants in order to create an artificial, yet living material that can be replicated by these critters. Wagner says that humans could benefit from the organization of fire ants to create intelligent swarm robots. He says that you can use this model system as inspiration.Researchers in the field are prepared to take a few risks to learn about these amazing insects. Hooper-Bui has a bigger occupational risk: She is extremely allergic to fire ant hormones. She has been studying them for more than a decade, as she finds them fascinating.Because fire ants can probe with protrusions, they are also skilled escape artists. Wagner returned to the lab after an overnight experiment to discover that the water tank at his table was ant-free. The video footage of the colony of amoeba-shaped ants showed that one of its arms had reached beyond the frame of the camera, suggesting it was looking for a way to escape along the tank's side walls. The ants sprang across his video screen, following the protrusion. They eventually disappeared from the frame. He saw the blurry silhouettes of ants outside the container in the background. The stowaway swarm had made its way across the water in search of freedom, only to land in one corner and a placid clump.