Fire ants might be infuriating little beasts, an invasive species we'd all be pleased to see banished to its native Brazil, but it turns out a fire ant colony has some pretty amazing properties. In groups, they knit together, more like a fabric than anything else, and are waterproof, totally flexible, and nearly indestructible. A mechanical engineer describes these groups as behaving like a thick liquid.
Nobody has really bothered to study fire ants before, having been generally more interested in cursing at them and running quickly away from them, but a couple of mechanical engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology noticed some pretty incredible properties upon examination. Turns out fire ants, when in groups, grasp onto each other using their mandibles, forming an intricate and precise pattern something like a Gore-Tex fabric.
This fabric-like bunching is even weirder than it sounds: The group of ants can be molded almost like a thick liquid (Wired compares it to honey or ketchup), and it will retain that shape even when manipulated. To undergo a waterproofing test, the engineers simply spun a bunch of ants in a cylinder, forming them into a near-perfect sphere in the same way you might form a meatball, if you used scientific equipment and not your hands while cooking. These ant-balls, with about 500-8,000 stinging bugs per ball, were dropped into a vat of water, where they assuredly did not drown.
Instead, the ant-ball almost instantly spread out into a raft, enhancing the ants' already hydrophobic waterproofing. Ants can survive for days on the water in this way, never at risk of drowning. In fact, the engineers even poked this ant-raft with a stick (which would have been your first instinct too, don't lie) and found that it was so hydrophobic that it merely bent the surface of the water rather than pushing the ants underneath it.
So how is this useful? Well, given how much we love biomimicry, we could easily see some of the properties of these ants used for commercial fabrics, but the engineers suggest military microbots could have a lot to learn from these ants as well.
Oh, and if you're concerned about a bunch of engineers manhandling, poking, and doing their damnedest to drown these animals, don't be. The fire ants, collected from the Georgia road-side, are a highly overpopulated invasive species in that region, and the engineers say they further "lost sympathy for them" after more than a few bites.
so now were going to have nanoantbots? :)
My skin is crawling... thanks
They started with sympathy for them?!?!?!
I have no sympathy for these creatures. After sitting down near one of their nest(didn't even know it was there) in Georgia when I was a teen, I was stung over a hundred times. Had to go to the hospital, was there for 4 days because of what they did to me. :(
These scientists could have solved all their fire ant floating problems with a drop or few of dish soap. I'd love to see the video of that.
To me, this just further proves that we need to kill all the little buggers... but how? Apparently they're invincible to everything short of stepping on them. And Raid :)
I am with airship girl on this one. I use to keep my skivvies by the bed to wear in the morning until one morning unknown to me the little ant bastards made a nest in there. And they were merciless.
So when global warming has it's way and all the ice in the world is melted and the world is flooded, these little guys will make a rafe and survive. Any human jumping on the rafe will be stun and made ready for dinner.
Ants will rule us all,...... braha ha ha....
The laser was, for many years, seen as "a solution in search of a problem." It took decades for someone to find a truly general-purpose application for the laser, but certainly no one in those early years could have guessed that nearly every home would have one or more of them in computer and home entertainment systems.
I suspect one day we'll find some use for what we have learned from these formic transformers, but just as with the laser, it will probably be some app we cannot even fathom today-b- we just need to avoid getting stung to death in the process.