Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Today as I was settling into my observation location, and just as I almost sat on the ground, there they were….FIRE ANTS ! ! !

Initially, I wanted to move locations, but then I began to think about this weeks observation topic “life’s principles”, and realized that in order to capture the innovation inspired by nature and the sustainability aspects inherent in natural designs I must understand the principles and strategies that ALL OF NATURE (including fire ants) uses to sustain life on Earth.  With this, I stayed and observed the fire ants at work.

I had seen ants burrow and work in the past, but as I refined my observation I saw something I had never send before…an ant carrying another ant. Was it a result of a battle? Was it sympathy? What was going on? I don’t know, but below I captured what I saw.

***Note: It is here, in this moment, I wish I had one of those professional cameras to capture the finest details nature has to offer.

Upon further research(after I returned home) I found out when fire ants die, “worker ants” remove the bodies and body parts from nests. Nest hygiene is a key to disease prevention in social insects such as bees and ants. Trash piles, called middens, accumulate in underground chambers during weather that inhibits above-ground activity, and are then moved to the surface after spring and summer rains when ants rebuild galleries and clean house.

The more I researched these fire ants, the more I found.  The bodies of fire ants are divided into three sections: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen, with three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae. Fire ants can be distinguished from other ants by their copper brown head and body with a darker abdomen.  I learned fire ant colonies produces large mounds in open areas.  The red imported fire ant builds mounds in almost any type of soil, but prefers open, sunny areas such as pastures, parks, lawns, meadows and cultivated fields(exactly where I was today!).  They feed mostly on young plants, seeds, and sometimes crickets. Unlike many other ants, which bite and then spray acid on the wound, fire ants only bite to get a grip and then sting (from the abdomen) and inject a toxic alkaloid venom (piperidine). This is a painful sting for humans and the aftereffects of the sting can be deadly to sensitive individuals. Fire ants often attack small animals and can kill them. When these ants invade an area, they do it with a vengeance; you will see them in enormous numbers.
I also learned that the violent death of a   will emit an alarm pheromone that in high concentration sends other fire ants in the vicinity into attack frenzy, but in lower amounts, attracts them. A few fire ants use what is referred to as propaganda pheromones to confuse their enemies. 

Soo interesting!

My second stop was to  Here I found how these ants adhere to “Life’s Principle’s”.  Life’s Principles are strategies that living things use in order to survive in balance with their surroundings. They are fundamental to the persistence of life on this planet. Life’s Principles are organized around two main themes: 1) Life adapts and evolves, and 2) life creates conditions conducive to life.

Below, I have listed the top six Life's Principles: 

Life creates conditions conducive to life
1. Optimizing Rather than Maximizing
2. Leveraging Interdependence
3. Benign Manufacturing

Life adapts and evolves
4. Locally Attuned and Responsive
5. Integrates Cyclic Processes
6. Resilient

Fire ants are wonderful organisms and many of Life’s Principle’s can be found in there lifestyle. Below I have listed examples: 

*Ants move efficiently in large numbers by maintaining three lanes of traffic; two outer lanes travel opposite the inner lane and are governed by behavioral differences related to possession of food. Thus by forming three lanes of traffic during hunting expeditions, ants come close to achieving the maximum possible rate of traffic flow. Ants returning from a successful hunt are less likely to deviate when bumped. Weighed down by their prize, they simply continue to march in a line, guided by the pheromone trail of the ants in front of them. Ants traveling away from the nest carry no food, and are more likely to get out of the way. The result is a middle lane of food-toting ants moving in one direction, and two outer lanes of unburdened ants moving in the opposite direction.

*Colonies of fire ants survive floods by forming a raft using collective hydrophobicity. "Superhydrophobic surfaces do not necessarily need to be a layer of a single materials. By massing together, some ants effectively form a superhydrophobic raft." (Nature's Raincoats 2009).  “’Fire ants do form these living rafts of ants, when they get flooded,' [Goodisman] explains. 'They basically float on their young and they'll cannibalize each other to some extent until they hit land. Ants die but the colony survives, that's what it is all about. The colony survives, the queen survives.'"

*Colonies of social insects such as ants function efficiently because swarms are flexible (the colony can adapt to a changing environment), robust(even when one or more individuals fail, the group can still perform its tasks);, and self-organize(activities are neither centrally controlled nor locally supervised).  If you think about business executives and how they relate readily to the first two attributes, but they often balk at the third, which is perhaps the most intriguing.

* Air scoops on the sides of ants cool them through evaporation. Another reason ants succeed so well is that they're superb lawn-traversing machines. When this first one backs away from the shadow of the giant human and reenters the main part of the sunny, hot lawn, little air-scoops on its side automatically switch on. A mist of cooling water vapor puffs upward from them. That keeps the ant's temperature down, but it could also mean that the ant's nitrogen--the equivalent of our urine substances--would become over concentrated." This can be very useful when trying to self-cool buildings, machines, and heavy equipment tires.

*The bodies of some ants enable them to glide and steer through the air when falling thanks to long, flattened legs and flanged heads that may act as a rudder.

This list goes on and on. I find it so amazing to see how these tiny fire ants actually exhibit Life's Principles in so many ways. If you want more info check out AskNature.  

Thanks for visiting my blog post this week!

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