By Brian Vastag,
Congress — and perhaps the rest of us — could learn a thing or two about teamwork from Solenopsis invicta, the dreaded fire ant.
When in danger of drowning, a colony of the critters — thousands of them — will save themselves by joining forces and forming a raft. They pile together and lock legs and jaws. So bound, an ant raft can survive for months.
Engineers studying animal oddities now report that together, the ants aren’t just stronger. They’re floatier. Airtight, even.
“Water does not penetrate the raft,” said Nathan Mlot, a mechanical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and lead author of the ant-raft report published in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academies. Even the bottom layer of ants stays dry, he said.
Engineers, Mlot went on to explain, think the rafting behavior might aid the quest for new waterproof materials and offer lessons for robotics research.