Researchers have long been fascinated with ant rafts. These floating mats form during rain storms and floods and are composed of thousands of individual insects.
Scientists have found that the living rafts possess their own unique material properties, displaying buoyancy and behaving, alternately, like a solid and like a liquid.
How the ants manage to create such engineering masterpieces, however, has remained largely unknown.
Now, researchers have discovered one architectural secret behind the ant rafts. The ants, it turns out, cling to one another using all six of their legs—a single ant can have up to 20 of its comrades’ legs grabbing its body.
The Georgia Institute of Technology researchers found that 99 percent of ant legs are gripping another ant, meaning “there’s no free loaders” when it comes to hitching a ride on the rafts, they said in a statement.
Scientists didn’t discover this trick earlier because it’s exceedingly difficult to look inside those dense balls of insects.