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Ants use themselves to form rafts and escape floods

Digital writers

Sunday, February 23, 2014, 4:53 PM -

Ants are not exactly known to be the smartest or most powerful of creatures, but a new study suggests that when it comes to battling nature's elements they're a force to be reckon with. 

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, states that ants link together to form a nearly waterproof raft to save themselves and their queen during flooding. 

“Social organisms have an advantage when responding to ecological adversity: They can react in a collective and organized way, working together to perform tasks that a solitary individual could not achieve,” Jessica Purcell from the University of Lausanne and her colleagues wrote.

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Surprisingly, baby ants are used used to form the base of the raft, while worker adult ants join together to form the rest of the buoyant vessel. In true matriarchal form, the queen took the safest spot -- right at the centre of the raft. 

Researchers discovered that young ants were more buoyant than worker ants, and had a lower risk of dying at the bottom of the boat than initially thought. 

Flood ants build a raft to escape a flood and protect the queen. Photograph by Jessica Purcell (Via: National Geographic)

Flood ants build a raft to escape a flood and protect the queen. Photograph by Jessica Purcell (Via: National Geographic)

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“We expected that individuals submerged on the base of the raft would face the highest cost, so we were astonished to see the ants systematically place the youngest colony members in that position,” Purcell said in a press release. 

She continued, “Further experiments revealed that the brood are the most buoyant members of the society and that rafting does not decrease their survival -- this configuration benefits the group at minimal cost.” 

Believe it or not, ants aren't the only ones to join forces for self-preservation. Studies have shown that honeybees kick into high gear and form cooperative worker communes in the absence of a monarchical queen bee.

Source: Ant Brood Function as Life Preservers during Floods, published February 19 in PLOS ONE

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