Silver ants that dwell in the Sahara Desert have to seek food during hot sunny days and put up with extreme high temperatures just to stay out of their predators’ way. But researchers found that the tiny insects can resist up to 158 degree F (70 C) temperatures due to their hair.
Usually, the animals die if their internal body temperature tops 128.48 degrees Fahrenheit (53 degrees Celsius), but their hair protects them and keep them cool. Scientists analyzed the amazing structure of their hair and how silver ants control the solar radiation and keep their body temperature to optimal levels.
The research team published a paper on their findings this Thursday in the journal Science.
In Sahara Desert, one can see the small insects running all day long after their food, mainly dead insects and other small animals. Nanfang Yu, lead author of the study and researcher at Columbia Engineering, explained that the tiny creatures look like droplets of mercury that roll on the desert surface at incredible speeds. The ants go out in the hot summer days, but they take shelter every ten minutes, researchers noted.
The team also found that the ants’ hair reflect both visible and infrared light. Team members deemed the hair coating “highly reflective.” What’s more, the hair coating is also “anti-reflective” because it allows ants to release their own body heat into the cooler surrounding air, the team found.
“We quickly realized these two effects are actually helping each other. The combination of this tool leads to the optimum cooling effect,”
the researchers concluded.
The data also revealed that the two complementary functions of the ant hair coating can lower the creatures’ body heat by up to 50 degrees F (10 degrees C).
In order to test their findings, scientists had to manually remove the hair from some of the ants’ bodies, a process which had required “hours of patience.” In the meantime, the team learned that the hairs grow straight but they soon take a parallel position to the animals’ skin. The space between the hairs and skin is highly ventilated and helps the ants keep a constant body temperature.
Scientists also used the data they gathered while studying the ants to create a computer model that may help engineers design “metasurfaces” that can be highly resistant to extreme high temperatures.
Prof. Yu explained that the design of silver ants’ hair coating is a “very clever engineering” to obtain a cooling effect without using any electricity.
Image Source: Flickr
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