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The incredible physics of ants and ant rafts

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Are fire ants the oobleck of the animal world? The New York Times’ Science Take: The Incredible Physics of Ants looks into the fluid dynamics — yep, fluid dynamics — of these tiny creatures. From Red Orbit: 

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology explain that these ants can link their bodies together, forming waterproof rafts that behave much like an active material capable of changing state from a solid to a liquid. The ants can drip, spread and coagulate; and this transition helps them survive rainfall and crashing waves.

In a statement, the APS compares the structure’s behavior to Jell-O and toothpaste, stating that they are all “viscoelastic” materials capable of resisting flow under stress and reverting to their original shape like rubber bands. The fire ant rafts do not behave exactly like solids or liquids, but as a kind of hybrid of the two.

ant physics
ant bridges
GATech mechanical engineer and fluid dynamicist David Hu has studied ant rafts and surface tension since 2011. The 3,000-ant ant raft video below shows both the surface of water as well as the undersurface of the raft:


In the archives: More incredible ant videos, including:
• The BBC’s Life in the Undergrowth
Ants: Nature’s Secret Power
• The Sticky Feet of Ants & Cockroaches – Cambridge Ideas
• Carnivorous Plants and Killer Ants

Bonus: Videos about surface tension.

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