Let's Visit Fire Ant Island!

(Image: Chris Murray/NBC 4)

During the past week, areas of South Carolina have experienced major flooding. When fire ants, the dominant life form in South Carolina, encounter a flood, they form enormous rafts using their own bodies. Entire colonies consisting of thousands of them can clump together in floating islands consisting entirely of painful red bites. Brian Clark Howard of National Geographic explains how these fire ant rafts work:

When waters start to flood a fire ant colony, they take evasive action. Worker ants link legs and mouths together, weaving a raft in a process that can take less than two minutes (see pictures).

The ants move their queen and larvae to the center of the raft, where they stay high and dry on top of the mass of bodies. The fine coat of hairs on the ants traps enough air that those on the bottom layer of the raft avoid being completely submerged.

Fire ants can survive in a raft up to several weeks, though they must eventually reach dry land if they are to restart their colony. In the water, they face constant danger from predators, particularly fish, who pick them off one by one. If enough ants are removed, the whole colony can collapse.

-via Dave Barry

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