A Raft of Ants

Like many people, I’m not a big fan of ants, especially those that find their way into my house or fire ants that bite and sting. But when I learned how fire ants survive a flood I couldn’t help but be amazed.

One of my current projects is about animal survival. As I researched, I tried to find a diversity of animals to include in the book, including insects. That’s when I came across an article about fire ants. Ants in general work together as a colony for all matters of survival. But fire ants go above and beyond. When their nests begin to flood,

they all leave at one. They clump together, then flatten themselves into a pancake shape – a raft. Linked like that they can float on the surface of the water for weeks, ensuring the survival of the colony.

Photo by Brant Kelly

It gets better. The raft isn’t merely a haphazard collection of ants desperately clinging to one another. Researchers found that the way they connect to each another is purposeful. For starters, 99% of ants’ legs will be connected to another ant, creating an intricate network that is strong enough to support the raft. Plus, the ants on the bottom create a base for the rest of the colony; others can actually move around atop the raft. That base is so tightly woven that water does not enter the raft so most of the ants stay try; this is also what creates buoyancy. Bonus fact: they can also form towers 30 ants tall!