Do colonies work together and do ants float? (Marion)


I'm thinking about doing a science fair project on ants. I was hoping to create a habitat for two colonies of ants and then connecting them by removing a plastic divider. Wanted to observe what the colonies would do and how it would change their behaviors finding food, etc. Also, I read that certain ants can float by linking together on top of water. Is this true? Will ants from two colonies link to survive?

Marion


Hi Marion,

We have several posts on ant farms here, and particularly this post might be of interest to you.

Almost all ant species will viciously defend their colony against ants from a different colony. This being said, once you remove the plastic divider, the two colonies would fight each other. If the two colonies are from the same species, workers usually fight one-on-one in often lethal fights and the larger colony would win. Check out this post by Alex Wild on territorial fights of pavement ants. If the ants you bring together are from different species, it is hard to predict which one would survive.

ant_battle1.jpg

Two pavement ant colonies fighting (Tetramorium). Photo by Alexander Wild (http://myrmecos.net/2010/09/21/the-battle-for-clinton-lake/).

To answer your second question, fire ants can link together to float. This behavior actually helps this invasive species to survive during floods and to colonize new habitats. (To find out more about fire ants read this post.) Researchers have discovered the mechanisms behind these living floats and found that ants use the buoyancy of air bubbles to float. Linking their bodies together increases water repellent activity. Here is an article on the study by Mlot and colleagues, which was published in 2011 ("Fire-ants self assemble into waterproof floats to survive floods" PNSA 108:7669-7673).

Fire ant.jpg

Air bubbles enable fire ants to float. (Picture is courtesy of Mlot, Tovey and Hu, Ant Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology).

I hope this answers your questions!

Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

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