According to a study published on Thursday in the journal Science Sahara silver ants protect themselves from the unbearable high temperatures with hair. A team of researchers from Columbia University in collaboration with the University of Washington and the University of Zürich have discovered that silver ants have a unique organization and structure of their hair which enables them to keep cool by controlling a wide range of the solar spectrum.
Silver ants must search for food during the hottest time of the day in order to avoid predators. That’s when temperatures can reach up to 158 degrees Fahrenheit. This is almost too hot for the ants to survive. Silver ants cannot resist if their internal temperature is higher than 128.48 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why they need their special hair in order to survive. The insects look like small droplets of mercury when they run around the desert at unbelievable speeds. When they go out on hot days in order to look for food the ants seek for shelter every ten minutes.
Nanfang Yu, the lead author of the study and assistant professor at Columbia Engineering said that silver ants are a clear example of how evolution has generated the adaptation of physical characteristics in order to enable a physiological task to take place and so ensure the survival of the species. In this case evolution has prevented silver ants from getting overheated.
The research team used ion beam milling and electron microscopy to discover that the ants are covered with a unique hair coating which covers the top and the sides of their bodies. The unique shape of the hairs has triangular cross-sections. It seems that the hair of the insects reflect not only visible light, but also infrared light. The researchers also discovered that the hair coating is anti-reflective, enabling silver ants to release their body heat into the surrounding air which is cooler. This combination provides the ants the cooling effect which they need. The hair reduces the insects’ body temperature by up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Co-author of the study, Norman Nan Shin, commented on the findings of the study:
“The fact that these silver ants can manipulate electromagnetic waves over such a broad range of spectrum shows us just how complex the function of these seemingly simple biological organs of an insect can be.”
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