Friday, February 11, 2005

Gliding Ants

In the most current issue of Nature, scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch, UC Berkeley, and University of Oklahoma report their finding on the "Directed aerial descent in canopy ants." The ants under investigation, the species Cephalotes atratus, can direct themselves back to their tree should they fall, or dropped from a pair of tweezers in this study. This is pretty important for them, considering their entire colony lives in one tree, and a free fall from the canopy likely means certain death for the bugs (either due to ground-dwelling predators, the sheer impact, or the fact that the rainforest floor is flooded for half of the year).

The video of this phenomenon is worth a watch. You'll see what the authors did to collect data on these gliding ants. One ant is taken in a pair of tweezers (they appear blurry in the first few seconds) and dropped from a short distance from the trunk of the tree. Part of the ant was painted white to aid in following the falling insect. The authors even painted over the eyes of a few of their subjects to see if they were actually responding to visual cues to direct their fall. Most of those ants plummeted to the forest floor, while 85% of their seeing-eye cousins made it safely back to the tree. The ants even climbed back to the original elevation within 10 minutes. This is the first case of directional gliding recorded in the insect kingdom. I have to agree with the authors that this is quite a remarkable evolved behavior.

Via: EurekAlertAlso covered at: Boingboing, Dean's world


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