Local News

Yes, Fire Ants Can Create Living Rafts to Travel Through Floodwaters

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Many Houstonians were already familiar with the unusual and scary skill colonies of ants employ when they’re carried away by flood waters, but national coverage of Hurricane Harvey brought this natural phenomenon to light for many people for the first time. Fire ants can create rafts! They join together along with eggs and larvae from their colony and create a ball of fury, awaiting time to come ashore and build a new home.

The Atlantic writes that during Hurricane Katrina, people had to visit the field hospital after getting caught in flood waters that had rafts of ants. The sheer number of stings were beyond belief. Entomologist Linda Bui studied the fire ant rafts and learned that “flooded fire ants deliver higher doses of venom because they have 165 percent as much venom inside them as normal fire ants. The flooding made them more aggressive and dangerous.”

So how does one dismantle an ant raft? The Washington Post writes, “Spray a bit of soapy water on an ant raft and it will break apart and begin sinking almost instantaneously… An experiment conducted in the 1990s found that the application of a mildly soapy solution kills off anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of a floating ant colony within 10 minutes.”

Watch the National Geographic video below to see how ants make their “living raft” along with another video by researchers showing how the ant clusters float and repel water.