BAD PARENTING: Ants use their newborns as rafts in flood situations
Many baby ants survive the ordeal with a 79 percent success rate
It first sounds like a shining example of the ruthlessness of nature. Ants, when faced with the possibility of flooding, use their youngest to line rafts in order to float to safety. This is among the latest findings from researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Fear not: the baby ants usually survive, with a 79 percent survival rate.
Research proved that 79 percent of the young ants were able to survive their ordeal after eight hours under water.
This potentially puts the youngest ants in harm's way, as fish can come along and eat them. It has been proved that this rather barbaric practice maintains the colony's integrity. The situation takes advantage of the natural buoyancy of brood ants and lets the adult worker ants to recover more quickly.
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The research also proved that 79 percent of the young ants were able to survive their ordeal after eight hours under water.
The ants also use their babies as life rafts during these floods, according to the study. This unusual behavior was observed in ants living in flood plains and may have evolved from ants living in the rainforest of Brazil long ago.
The practice is brought into play whenever large colonies of ants are caught in water. Creating rafts from their own bodies, the ants link together into a flat circle. Able to trap air beneath the group, these "living structures" are usually three to four ants thick, containing a total of 500 to 8,000 individuals under laboratory conditions. "Ant raft" can contain up to 100,000 ants in rural conditions.
"By causing groups of ants to raft in the laboratory, we observe that workers are distributed throughout the raft, queens are always in the center, and 100% of brood items are placed on the base. Through a series of experiments, we show that workers and brood are extremely resistant to submersion," the researchers wrote.
Not all of the ants were pleased with their placing on the hierarchy. Some of the insects were forced to take positions in the water, or on the edge of rafts.
"We find that ants can considerably enhance their water repellency by linking their bodies together, a process analogous to the weaving of a waterproof fabric. We present a model for the rate of raft construction based on observations of ant trajectories atop the raft. Central to the construction process is the trapping of ants at the raft edge by their neighbors, suggesting that some "cooperative" behaviors may rely upon coercion," researchers wrote.
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