Flexible Fire Ant Rafts
Have you ever seen a fire ant raft? They’re pretty incredible structures. Like thick liquids such as ketchup, toothpaste, and any gel, they can adapt to any almost any kind of outside pressure, conforming to whatever the outside conditions are. They can bend and flex, snap right back to their original shape, and even break apart and then come back together if necessary, actively reorganizing their structure. This ability of theirs to create such a flexible raft with their own bodies makes them a viscoelastic material. Fire ants form these rafts by linking their legs and jaws. This flexibility allows them to withstand outside forces that could otherwise destroy them.
A fire ant raft is hardly comparable to our own material rafts; they are in constant flux, making them much more durable. The ants are repeatedly forming, breaking apart, and reforming the links between their bodies. This allows them to store energy (like elastic material) and then release it (like viscous material). This ability has not been witnessed in any other living material such as bacteria or liquid crystals, making the fire ants a very unique critter indeed.
What do you think of the way these tiny insects can form such resilient formations? How do you think studying them could benefit humans?