There are a lot of benefits to sticking together. Birds, fish, wolves, bees and ants, all know the advantages of being part of a tight-knit group and working with each other in order to advance their interests and protect each other from external threats such as predators or cold temperature.
Fire ants are also known to swarm, but their swarms are a bit more original. These ants will join together and form a floating raft whenever they come into contact with a body of water that they need to cross. However, this raft is not uniform. Some of the ants will go towards the edges of the group and start branching out over the water.
This branching off is quite different from most animal groups, which tend to stick together. Anything that is sticking out could be cut off and is more vulnerable. The fire ants face the same risk. If a group of them is severed from the raft, they are very unlikely to survive. However, the fire ants find that the reward for this behavior is worth the risk. This is because they engage in a behavior known as swarm intelligence, where individually obeying a set of simple rules allows the collective to engage in much more complex behavior.
In order to research the reasons behind this branching off, scientists gathered wild fire ants and placed thousands of them into a tank of water. They also placed a rod in the water, which gave the ants something to attach themselves to so they wouldn’t drift towards the walls. The ants formed their circular raft initially round the rod, but as the hours passed, the ants would start forming tentacle-like extensions to the raft, making it look more like an amoeba than a pancake.
“Tentacle” is actually a very fitting name for these extensions, because they are used to “feel out” the environment and search for ground in a flooded environment. These protrusions serve an exploratory role, and they are meant to help the ants get out of the water as quickly as possible during a flood or when crossing bodies of water.
Given this ability, their powerful sting, and their capacity to adapt to almost any environment, the fire ants have been able to spread all over South America, east Asia and the US, and climate change has only quickened their spread across these continents. They are a pest for humans, livestock and human settlements. Contact us today if you have a fire ant infestation on your property, and we will help you get it under control.