How fire ants can shift their shape

What do fire ants have in common with custard? Find out the answer. 

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A colony of fire ants may not be the best accompaniment to an apple crumble, but they have more in common with custard than meets the eye.

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New research shows that – just like a paste of custard powder and a little water – a mass of these tiny insects can behave like both a solid or a liquid, depending on the size of the force applied to them.

“At times, the mass of ants can seem as stiff as a rubber ball – you can bounce it in your hand – or flow like liquid through the spout of a teapot,” said David Hu of the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA.

The ants can vary their collective fluidity by making and breaking links between individuals. This enables them to negotiate many challenges – bridging gaps between objects, for example, or forming cohesive rafts in order to survive flooding.

Source Nature Materials

View amazing photos of the ants that use their bodies to stockpile sugar.

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Read more wildlife news in BBC Wildlife Magazine.