Prism-Like Hairs Help This Ant Beat The Heat

Shine bright like an ant

Silver Ants

Saharan Silver Ants

The tiny hairs on these ants give them their distinctive appearance and name.P. Landmann, Willot et al.

What do you get when you cross the Silver Surfer and Ant Man? Is it:

  • A. Silver Man
  • B. Surfer Man
  • C. Silver Ant
  • D. Ant Surfer

While Ant Surfer would be cool, we were looking for C. Silver Ant, because C is always the correct answer, and these weird looking creatures actually exist.

The Saharan silver ant is unusual because it tends to venture out in the hottest part of the day, when most animals are avoiding the sun. Also, it's silver.

In a paper published today in PLOS One, researchers found that the two traits were related. Tiny hairs on the ant's back are shaped like triangular prisms.

The researchers figured this out by first shaving the ants.

Those hairs are so efficient at deflecting sunlight that even in the brightest part of the day in the middle of the desert, enough light and heat reflects off of the hairs that the ants are able to stay cool. This is a perfect survival mechanism for the tiny creatures, who take advantage of the time when other animals (including predators) are chilling in the shade to forage for food before returning to their underground homes.

But that isn't the coolest part of this study. No, truly the most amazing part of this study is the fact that the researchers figured this out by first shaving the ants and then comparing the temperature of ants with hair to ants without hair.

Yes, you read that right. Someone, somewhere was tasked with the job of shaving the ants, which is easily a skill that will make you stand out on any future job application.

Luckily, the ants were not awake for the procedure. The researchers first knocked them out with carbon dioxide, at which point, according to the paper, "hairs covering the dorsal side of the abdomen were completely removed using a sharp scalpel blade."

To all those unshaved ants out there: May you ride cool, shiny and hairy, my six-legged friends.