It may not be as flashy as this nuclear-powered Sky Hotel, but the mystery of fire ant rafts and why they form may have been solved by scientists at Georgia Tech. The team, led by Ko, conducted 72 experiments with groups ranging from 72-158 ants, each placed on the surface of a small laboratory aquarium.
Previously, researchers believed that fire ant rafts were formed due to them making connections with each other on the water’s surface. Now, it has been determined to be the Cheeriors effect, or a type of capillary action. This means that if there are fewer than 10 ants, the Cheerios effect of clumping pushes them together and is too strong to counteract, similar to when enough of the cereal is in a liquid-filled bowl, they band together towards each other.
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When we put two ants on the water surface, they didn’t seem to go towards each other. Even more surprisingly, when they did accidentally encounter each other, they didn’t form connections and instead pushed each other away. We concluded that there is no active attraction force between the ants,” said Ko.