A recent experiment carried out through the collaboration between the University of Zurich and the University of Washington explains how Saharan silver ants use their shiny hair to reflect sun rays. The leader of the study group, Assistant Professor Nanfang Yu thinks the findings might help engineers develop new cooling systems, based on the ants’ physiological peculiarities.
The silver ants living in the Sahara deserts are the only living beings that have managed to survive the harsh weather conditions. Researchers have been intrigued by the insects’ physical abilities and they have carried out a study to identify the factors that make the Cataglyphis bombycina species heat resistant.
Normally, these tiny bugs would not live in temperatures that exceed 128 degrees Fahrenheit. Nevertheless, they have managed to adapt their bodies and now they can take up temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit without any negative effects.
Professor Yu has spent many days observing the behavior of the silver ants in extremely hot temperatures. The endeavor required him a lot of patience, especially since he was forced to manually remove the outer hairs of the ants.
By carefully analyzing them under the microscopic lenses, the researchers noticed that the hair of the Saharan ants is a lot different than the one on other species. First of all, it is shaped in triangular form and, second of all, it is displaced in a 90 degree angle on the body of the insects to ensure them effective heat protection.
Moreover, the scientist noticed that there is a small gap between the hair and the body of the ant. This space, he, later on, explained, prevents the ant from getting warmed up in the sun, as well.
Even though they have managed to adapt their bodies to the high temperatures of the Sahara desert, ants can’t stay for too long in the outdoor. They normally spend at most 10 minutes per day outside and they are forced to immediately retreat; otherwise, they would die.
According to Yu, Cataglyphis bombycina cannot go out at other time intervals during the day as this is the only moment when they can actually find food in the desert. If they take too long to go outside, they risk losing all their resources.
The fact that the ants were able to replace their regular hair with mirror-like silver capillaries that can reflect sunlight, is evidence enough that the species will survive in the desert in the future, as well. Nanfang Yu, on the other hand is convinced that the system these bugs use will be, later on, adopted by engineers in the development of new cooling systems for houses and cars.
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