An Ant with a Heat Coat

An Ant With the Right Coat for 158-Degree Weather

silver_ant

Silver ants of the Sahara leave their underground nests for only 10 to 20 minutes a day, and they do it when the heat is peaking. The surface temperature can reach 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

The ant, just three-eighths of an inch long, survives because of a unique coat of hair that covers its body and cools it, as reported in the journal Science (18 June 2015).

The hairs, laid out in triangular cross sections, are highly reflective under visible and near-infrared light. The researchers also discovered that in the mid-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, the hairs dissipate heat through thermal radiation.

The hairs are critical to the ants’ survival, said Nanfang Yu, a physicist at Columbia University and one of the study’s authors.

“That hottest moment of the day is when they can find the largest quantity of dead insects,” Dr. Yu said. “Just a bit later, and those insects may be blown away by the wind or buried by the sand.”

In the extreme heat, the ants also can avoid predatory lizards.

The hair on the ants may inspire the development of paints and other materials that can be applied to cars or rooftops, Dr. Yu said.

Source: article by Sindya N. Bhanoo, The New York Times

See related articles at The New York Times > Science > Observatory

 

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