06 April 2006

Cool article about gliding ants

The New York Times science section reports on tropical gliding ants -- discovered when a bored researcher began flicking ants off a tree. They fell, then swerved and glided over to a tree trunk, landing safe and sound. No wings, no flaps, not even a very aerodynamic body, just leg movements. Various experiments were performed, the article explained,

They [researchers] hung fabric swaths in an array of rainbow colors high in the forest, then perched in the treetops and dropped hundreds of ants. Light colors, especially white, elicited the most consistent gliding behavior, with the insects veering acutely toward the banners and landing on them.

These results hinted at gliding's importance as an evolutionary adaptation. The ants have a vested interest in staying near their home tree, since they are likely to be trampled or eaten on the forest floor. White lichen that grows on trunks of rainforest trees serves as a useful signpost, pointing them toward safe territory.

How cool is that? Video can be found here. A paper will appear in a forthcoming Journal of Experimental Biology.