Place a single fire ant in water and it will probably die. Pour thousands of fire ants into water and they form a water repellent floating raft that will allow them to survive for days.
Biologists have been puzzled by this phenomenon for decades until now. A team of researchers at Georgia Tech has established how fire ants bind together to create the watertight raft.
The researchers found that fire ants link their bodies together, a process similar, they say, to weaving a waterproof fabric. The ants grip each other with their mandibles, claws and the adhesive pads on their feet at a force 400 times their body weight.
The result, the researchers say, is an elastic material that is almost like a fluid composed of ants. The ants spread out from a sphere into a pancake-shaped raft that is waterproof even when submerged.
The scientists say one of the most remarkable features of the ant raft is that it can be assembled in less than two minutes.
The research could have application to logistics and operations research and material sciences, specifically the construction of man-made flotation devices