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What makes fire ants “pave roads” with particles?

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Haolin “Horace” Zeng is a University of Georgia-Athens entomology PhD student who rears and studies ants as a part of his work. His YouTube channel is filled with myrmecological experiments, including this one-minute long “example of tool use in ants.”

“Fire ants ‘paving’ sticky surfaces with the shiny glass gravels I gave them. I’ve seen signs of this behavior, but I didn’t expect it to be so robust until my friend told me about it.”

beginning to "pave" with particles
Zeng also links to a 2020 paper about the phenomenon:

“A previous study reported that red imported fire ants, Solenopsis invicta Buren, deposited soil particles on substances treated with essential balm, a fire ant repellent. We hypothesized that S. invicta modifies inaccessible surfaces by covering them with soil particles to facilitate food search and transportation… Our study provides a novel example of particle use by fire ants during foraging.”

beginning to "pave" with particles
Watch more ant videos on TKSST, including:
The incredible physics of ants and ant rafts
The Sticky Feet of Ants & Cockroaches
• Longhorn ‘Crazy Ants’ work erratically/cooperatively to carry loads
• How can weaver ants protect an entire orchard?

via Reddit.

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