These ants show us how to build a bridge

Beasts of Science is like a collection of stories. Beautiful stories that tell the living in all its freshness. But also in all its complexity. A bracket to marvel at the treasures of the world. In this new episode, let’s take a look at a tiny animal: the fire ant.

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Ants, there are tens of thousands of species. And they are present in practically every region of the world. Some are less discreet than others. There has been a lot of talk about a particular one for some time now Tapinoma magnum. Kind of “super ant” invasive plant that devastates crops and resists conventional treatments. In Africa ? In South America ? Not in French. In France. It started in Corsica. With the the global warming, the little beast has attacked the continent. First around the Mediterranean because these ants like the sea, then in the South West. In the meantime they have even reached the Pays de la Loire.

But the one we want to talk about today is one of her cousins. One scientist called Solenopsis invicta and who we call them fire ant. It’s also invasive. Especially since she is aggressive. Imagine. It has developed the habit of biting its prey with its force mandibles. His goal is to hold on to it in order to be able to sting the poor victims several times with his stinger, which resembles that of a wasp. To inject you with one of the most irritating toxins in the world. A deadly poison for many small animals.

The stage is set. What interests us here, however, is the cognitive abilities of these ants. Capacities all the more surprising as they only have around 250,000 neurons. Compared to our approximately 86 billion…

A bridge over a dangerous surface

Despite this “Disability”, fire ants show themselves capable of feats that continue to elude us. For example, while they live in very dense communities, they know how to avoid traffic jams!

They also know how to form rafts out of their bodies to escape floods. Per se binder very coordinated. Each ant makes contact with no fewer than 14 of its neighbors during the operation.

All this by using collective rather than individualistic strategies.

And here they are researcher observed another technique the group developed by these amazing ants to avoid the obstacles that nature puts in their way. Or, in this particular case, by the scientists caught up in their experiments. They did put a sticky surface between our fire ants and a few pieces of sausage. To venture there would have been suicide. The small animals would have actually risked finding themselves there in the trap.

But the fire ants had the parade. They used finds from the area – here shards of glass that were made available to them, in nature it could just as well be leaves, branches, etc. — to the like building a bridge. Coming to cover the sticky surface.

The researchers observed the same game when these little beasts crossed a surface coated with a powerful ant repellent. Some debris moved as a group and voila. Proving once again that fire ants aren’t that stupid after all!

And incidentally pointing out a role these insects play in a process scientists know as bioturbation. A process of rearranging the elements contained in the soil. Improving the water permeability but also the fertility of the layer field.

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