Floating Ants—How They Do It
Learn how ants can float.
There are ants that can build a raft and float. Sort of. They don’t build a raft out of things like wood or plastic, they build it out of themselves! So, what are these special ants and how do they do it?
The ants are the Red Imported Fire Ant. They’re native to South America, but they have been accidently brought to Australia, New Zealand, Asia, the Caribbean, and the United States.
Why do these ants build themselves into a raft? A lot of South America is close to rivers that often flood. When the flood waters come, there might not be time to find high ground. The red ants latch themselves together to increase the chances of surviving the flood.
But how does that work? Science! Water has a property known as surface tension. Like everything, water is made up of molecules. Water molecules are kind of like magnets: they like to stick together, that is called covalent bonding. A boat floats because it is buoyant and there is more force pushing up on the boat than pushing down.
Surface tension makes the ants float because there isn’t enough force pushing down on them to break the water’s attraction to itself.
You may have seen other bugs floating on water, but the Red Imported Fire Ant has other skills as well. They bite. And when they bite, they inject venom that burns. It’s where the name Fire Ant comes from. It feels like you’re on fire!
So what did we learn here? The ants don’t float on their own; they use the unique property of water known as a covalent bonding, which causes the water to have surface tension, letting the ants float! We also learned these ants mean serious business! So if you see ants floating in a big ball, stay away!
If you see red ants, the first thing you should do is get out of the area. They don’t use a central opening in their colonies like other ants. They have a network of tunnel entrances all around, so they could come from anywhere. Next you should tell an adult. Beyond the bites hurting, enough of them can cause you to have to go to the hospital. If you see a blob of them floating on the water, be extra careful because they are extra aggressive when they are floating. Or using surface tension to survive.