You Can't Drown Fire Ants!
January 15, 2012 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Fire ant rafts are hard to sink - a very cool demonstration of how ants make use of surface tension.
posted by quin (55 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Next time I'm on a boat and it capsizes, I will reach for some fire ants.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:50 PM on January 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The next Jaws movie is about a shark made out of fire ants.
posted by FunkyHelix at 1:52 PM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I bet a little bit of soap would fix those suckers right up.
posted by aubilenon at 2:00 PM on January 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Thanks, ants. Thants.
posted by bicyclefish at 2:02 PM on January 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


Having lived in Dallas and Denton for a number of years, I got really nervous when they started crawling up the tweezers towards his fingers.
posted by jvilter at 2:12 PM on January 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


If they refuse to sink, then burn them with FIRE!

bitey little bastards
posted by BlueHorse at 2:12 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The deflection of the water is very impressive. I wish they put a bit more care into shooting the videos. There were only a couple of side-on shots of the deflection in the first video, and a lot of camera wandering.
posted by OmieWise at 2:15 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why I, as a person who is terrified of the idea of being eaten by ants, having read Leningen Vs. the Ants as a teenager and having never got over the experience of reading Leningen Vs. the Ants, even clicked the link.

But it'll suffice to say that I'm not getting any sleep tonight.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:19 PM on January 15, 2012


This is just preliminary data for their grant proposal "The biophysics of Fire Ant control: a comparison of ten year old boys armed with garden hoses, magnifying glasses and the classic aerosol can paired with a Bic lighter".
posted by 445supermag at 2:19 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a native Texan, my train of thought went something like
Remarkable... the surface tension... ASSHOLE ANTS... buoyancy.. ASSHOLES!... cohesive forces of the liquid molecules.. UP THE TWEEZERS? NO YOU DON'T... and the rafting helps spread out the mass.. LET US NOW ADD SURFACTANT..
posted by crapmatic at 2:23 PM on January 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


You know that this isn't gonna help with my irrational fear of fire ants, right?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:25 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


At least now I can spend the money I was saving to build a moat.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:26 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Previously.
posted by inmediasres at 2:29 PM on January 15, 2012


The next Jaws movie is about a shark made out of fire ants.

So it will be a movie about a shark that floats helplessly on the surface, threatening no-one?

It's still gonna be better than Jaws IV
!
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:39 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Having lived in Dallas and Denton for a number of years, I got really nervous when they started crawling up the tweezers towards his fingers."

I'm surprised they didn't immediately swarm up the tweezers immediately.

Before I moved to Austin (when I was 31 in 1996), I'd heard about fire ants for many years and imagined them as giant ants that swarm, like I'd seen in videos from the Amazon. It was actually a couple of years after moving there that I first encountered them; and because they are actually just a bit bigger than sugar ants, I didn't know what they were at first.

They'd made an incursion in the spare bedroom I used as a study, and one evening I kept feeling these little bites on my legs. They were very mild, enough so that I didn't think much about them at first, thinking maybe they were my imagination or mosquitoes or whatever. And they were small enough that I couldn't see them by just casually looking down at the floor. After about ten or so of these bites, though, I got down on my knees and saw that they were all over.

At that point I figured out what they must be, because sugar ants don't sting. It was a little alarming that I could feel the stings at all from something about the size of sugar ants. Still, I was surprised that the infamous and feared fire ants were so small and unthreatening.

Uh-huh.

That was the first encounter over the next few months, and it was misleading. If I recall correctly, I think I had some pesticide and sprayed in that room and that seemed to take care of the problem for a short while.

But the next encounter I remember vividly. My cat was wandering around crying as if she were hungry, but she had food in her bowl when I checked. Yet she continued this behavior and so, after a number of hours, I checked her bowl again and this time I bent down and picked it up. Holding it in my hand, I realized it was full of fire ants. And, for some unknown insane reason, I swirled the contents of the dish around a couple of times. Here's what happened: at once, in unison, every single one of the large number of ants in that bowl began swarming toward my hand. I practically dropped the bowl on the ground.

In my prior experience, this was not how ants behaved. This was very wrong, unnatural, and deeply disturbing. Frightening. Okay, sure, they're tiny, but there's a lot of them, and they are demonically evil and bad-tempered.

And, as others will surely report, you might be able to keep them out of your house, but eradicating them from their nests in the yard or wherever is another matter entirely. And there are a million trillion bazillion of them. Every one of them hates you and wants to kill you.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:46 PM on January 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


bicyclefish: "Thanks, ants. Thants."

*knowing wink and half-smile*
posted by workerant at 2:48 PM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is exactly how I imagine a Discworld hydrophobe behaving when put in water. Also, I bet I'm not the only person who watched that video and wanted the guy to push just a little bit harder.
posted by Solomon at 2:56 PM on January 15, 2012


Sharks I can't see are a terrifying possibilty. A shark made of fire ants calmly strolling across water like Jesus at me will cause a real panic attack. My flailing will at least attract an actual shark or a dolphin looking to hump my leg.
posted by FunkyHelix at 2:58 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


What I want to know is how they'd do against 30 giant Japanese hornets.
posted by senor biggles at 3:02 PM on January 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


This seems like an oddly specific skill for the ants to have acquired, unless their natural habitat floods a lot or something. Reminds me of that episode of the Simpsons where the manager of the peanut factory had the employees run drills to prepare for an elephant attack ("This is the moment we feared people! Many of you thought it would never happen...")
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:04 PM on January 15, 2012


Having lived in Dallas and Denton for a number of years, I got really nervous when they started crawling up the tweezers towards his fingers.

Much as I dislike fire ants, I felt that they were, you know, just offering their own research proposal: "how may times do we have to bite you to get you to stop trying to push us under water?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:07 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


jacquilynne:

In that case, you definitely don't want to read about the ancient practice of Scaphism.
posted by scrod at 3:32 PM on January 15, 2012


God damn terrible horrible nightmare fuel!

All I could think was, "They're crawling up the tweezers! Drop the tweezers! They're gonna get you!"

Yes, I grew up in Houston. Why do you ask?
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:38 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This seems like an oddly specific skill for the ants to have acquired, unless their natural habitat floods a lot or something."

I've just spent some time reading Wikipedia and some other sources about them. The red imported fire ant supposedly first entered the US in Mobile, Alabama in the 30s from a cargo ship from Brazil. They are native to west central Brazil and yes, in fact, their native natural habitat does flood a lot.

Also, interestingly and sadly, this from a recent paper in Science on the population genetics of the worldwide spread of RIFA:
An assessment of genetic variation at a diverse set of molecular markers in 2144 fire ant colonies from 75 geographic sites worldwide revealed that at least nine separate introductions of S. invicta have occurred into newly invaded areas and that the main southern U.S. population is probably the source of all but one of these introductions.
It's possible that the fire ant encounter which I previously described were not RIFAs because everything I just read says the individual stings (and they are stings, not just bites, they inject an alkaloid) are much more painful than I experienced and result in white pustules. On the other hand, I have a high pain tolerance (living with chronic pain, though it wasn't that bad in the mid-90s) and maybe everyone doesn't always get the pustules. If they weren't RIFAs, they must have been one of two related species of native stinging ants, though it's unclear from what I've read whether those even exist anymore, having mostly or completely been replaced by their distant kin, the RIFAs.

Given the aggressiveness of the ones I encountered, and that I was only stung sporadically over a period of a couple of hours and they weren't swarming up my legs but rather just one or another very occasionally found its way there, I figured that when a whole bazillion of them swarm onto you and sting you at once, those little stings add up very quickly into something much more serious. But, then again, maybe what I encountered were something less painful.

After that incident, although I encountered them again numerous times when they invaded the house, I was careful to avoid being stung and so that was the only occasion in the eight years I lived there that I actually experienced being stung by them.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:40 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and I know they're not native to the area, The Card Cheat, but they ARE one of the reasons why you're not allowed to go play in the street when it floods after a hurricane or even a major rainstorm. I've seen clusters the size of a small melon. Utter horrorshow.
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:41 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, nature. Wonderous and creepy, all at once.
posted by DyRE at 3:46 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any violent death of a fire ant emits an alarm pheromone which is in high concentration. This is enough to send other fire ants in the surrounding area into an attack fury.

Ever notice how twenty or so ants will be on your foot before the first one bites? Then all hell breaks loose. Apparently when you smash one, the rest go berserk.
posted by JujuB at 4:09 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the ant researcher's website, with more info on this phenomenon.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:22 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ever notice how twenty or so ants will be on your foot before the first one bites? Then all hell breaks loose. Apparently when you smash one, the rest go berserk.

Twenty or so ants:
Ant 1: - Haha, stupid jerk, he has no idea we're on his foot, what say you friend, want to keep climbing?
Ant 2: - Do I ever. Climbing a stupid human is the best, climbing a stupid human who doesn't know we're climbing him is even better.
Ant 3: - Would you two shut up and climb.
Ant 4: - Dude, no need to get hostile, he doesn't know what is happening. Keep climbing.
Ant 5: - Guys, I think we need to talk to Ant 7!
Ant 6: - Why, what's up with 7!?
Ant 7: - LET'S DO THIS, LET'S FUCKING BITE, COME ON, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?
Ant 8: - DUDE! maintain, you know the ultimate goal is to just climb peacefully and reach the top.
Ant 7: - Fuck that, I'm biting. BITE BITE BITE!!!
Ant 9: - Oh shit, what's that smell, oh my lord, it's blood. It's so intoxicating, I have to do this, I have to join in, sorry guys. BITE BITE BITE!!
Ant 10: - Well, you know what they say, when in Rome... BITE BITE BITE!!!
Ant 11: - BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant 12: BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant 13: BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant 14: BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant 15: BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant 16: BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant 17: BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant 18: BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant 19: BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant 20: BITE BITE BITE BITE
Ant Or So: BITE BITE BITE BITE
posted by Fizz at 4:25 PM on January 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


Fire ant rafts are hard to sink, cause fire ant rafts don't give a shit.
posted by joelf at 4:31 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


@ Fizz, flagged for general awesomeness!
These ants chew through insulation plastic. They are pretty amazing. So glad thar I don't need to share space with them, Africanized bees, or those horrible giant wasps!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:35 PM on January 15, 2012


Ant 7's name? Leeroy Jenkins!
posted by drezdn at 4:38 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, these fire ants.

Live in the United Kingdom, do they?

No?

Good. Carry on.
posted by Devonian at 5:06 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Chuck Norris white water rafts on fire ants. Or so I'm told.
posted by taff at 5:07 PM on January 15, 2012


I'm pretty tolerant about god's creatures but fire ants deserve the genocide treatment.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:12 PM on January 15, 2012


I grew up in Texas and have blundered my way into my share of fire ants and have mercilessly killed hundreds of millions of the bastards, but that video gave me a bit of sympathy for the little guys.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:22 PM on January 15, 2012


JujuB, you're right about how they swarm up your leg and then all seem to bite at once. I had my fill of them from my time as a surveyor in Central Florida, when occasionally I'd step right on one of their mounds. Hated them more than pit vipers and wild boar. Their bite would sometimes leave a pit of dead flesh that took a long time to heal. Bastards.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 5:28 PM on January 15, 2012


Coming from Florida, I despise fire ants with the white hot passion of a thousand burning suns. They are the avatar of unalloyed evil, and are pure nightmare fuel. Every few years you'd hear of some poor schmuck getting himself killed by them, usually someone allergic fixing a car at the side of the road or some other horror-show cliché. The little bastards are foul tempered and will bite you just as soon as look at ya. And you never get just one bite, it's always a dozen or so; itching burning bites that swell up into little pus-filled marks of gruesome itchiness. Ugh.

Fortunately, I discovered how to get rid of them. Grits. You don't need Diazinon or any other fancy chemical. Plain old dried grits do wonders. Sprinkle them around the mound, and voila, a week later it's gone. I never had the chance to pin down exactly why they worked so well before I finally moved out of the South, but I always fancied they fed them to the queen, and grits doing what grits are wont to do, they absorbed moisture from inside the ant and swelled up. If there's any justice in the world, it's a horrible gruesome death for the fire ant queen. At any rate, with the queen gone, the mound dies quickly as individual ants don't appear to have much of a lifespan.

Good riddance.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:31 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, these fire ants.

Live in the United Kingdom, do they?

No?

Good. Carry on.


If I've learned anything here, it's that water doesn't phase them. They may be on their way RIGHT NOW!
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:32 PM on January 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


It took living in Texas for me to understand why they wear tall boots there.
posted by spitbull at 5:32 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't think anything could make me feel sorry for fire ants. They weren't doing anything to him.
posted by desjardins at 5:33 PM on January 15, 2012


I always fancied they fed them to the queen, and grits doing what grits are wont to do, they absorbed moisture from inside the ant and swelled up.

A link I found through Wikipedia suggests otherwise.
posted by MattMangels at 5:59 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now guilt-riddled about have made a wisecrack without a link.

Because it's one of the better things ever, I encourage you to look around you: Thanks, ants. Thants.
posted by bicyclefish at 6:01 PM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


A link I found through Wikipedia suggests otherwise.

Fascinating. I wonder why it worked without fail for me then? There's no mistaking fire ant mounds, or when they vanish. Sadly I'm no longer in a position to attempt any experiments to ascertain just how effective they may or may not actually be. I wonder too why they chose instant grits for the experiment. I never used those.

I do remember noticing that grits were only effective on certain types of ants. Really small ones just seemed to ignore them, but it's been a couple of decades since I experimented with getting rid of ants like that, and fire ants were the only ones I ever really wanted to get rid of anyway.

At any rate, /shrug. Worth giving it a go I'd say if you need to get rid of some, but don't take it as gospel on my account.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 6:28 PM on January 15, 2012


I always fancied they fed them to the queen, and grits doing what grits are wont to do, they absorbed moisture from inside the ant and swelled up.

That's an old wive's tale. It doesn't work.

I wonder why it worked without fail for me then? There's no mistaking fire ant mounds, or when they vanish.

They vanish because you poured grits on their mounds. Most likely they just moved their mound to another area a few feet away.
posted by Malice at 6:42 PM on January 15, 2012


Oh yeah, fire ants?

Float on this LAKE OF FLAMING GASOLINE.

Fuck fire ants.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:48 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


You just held a bunch of ants under water for over a minute. I got the point, I think, in the first 10 seconds. Nothing notable happened after that.
posted by klausman at 6:49 PM on January 15, 2012


It's funny because there are so many of them and so few of us.
posted by not_on_display at 6:50 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


They vanish because you poured grits on their mounds

Actually, no. A few dried grits sprinkled around the mound aren't any reason for ants to move. What you'd observe—and I did, would be ants discovering the dried corn meal, picking them up, and moving them into the mound. Grits are food, not poison—though I'm sure many people might argue otherwise. As for just moving the mound, that's not what I observed. Activity would taper off over a few days, and then then it'd vanish. You can't mistake fire ant mounds for anything else, so just moving doesn't seem likely either.

I don't disbelieve that little study's conclusions, but my experience also flies in the face of them. I suspect they actually do work, though perhaps not as consistently as actual poisons (and all I have are my suspicions, not actual proof). It wouldn't surprise me in the least if their efficacy was linked to things such as rain frequency or how wet the ground was, or the material of the soil. It may be that I had such good luck because I was in central Florida, with rain guaranteed not to come until late afternoon, and quick drying sand for soil. Regardless, I doubt anyone would have a burning interest to attempt the study and control for various soil and damp conditions.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 7:06 PM on January 15, 2012


senor biggles: "What I want to know is how they'd do against 30 giant Japanese hornets."

I am more concerned about Monsanto or someone breeding them with the hornets.
posted by arcticseal at 10:03 PM on January 15, 2012


You know that this isn't gonna help with my irrational fear of fire ants, right?

I don't know that any such fear should or could ever be called "irrational."
posted by kagredon at 11:35 PM on January 15, 2012


What if you lived in the North Pole, kagredon? Unless enough ants manage to somehow clump together and start rubbin' on each other to form a giant ball of heat like those Japanese bees do and use fat from the animals that they kill to form an insulating layer that protects them from the Arctic cold...I mean if they can already float on water it's not really that much of a stretch. The North Pole is getting warmer and less icy every year.

So I guess Antarctica is the only guaranteed place where that fear could be called irrational...for now anyway.
posted by MattMangels at 1:10 AM on January 16, 2012


You just held a bunch of ants under water for over a minute. I got the point, I think, in the first 10 seconds. Nothing notable happened after that.

While it certainly had the 10-year-old boy vibe, I found this video and its length fascinating from a physics perspective. It really was incredible how that bubble of air was preserved inside the bodies, even while they all moved around and some even swam away.
posted by odinsdream at 5:49 AM on January 16, 2012


some even swam away

SWIM AWAY! SWIM AWAY!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:06 AM on January 16, 2012


Rodrigo Lamaitre: "If I've learned anything here, it's that water doesn't phase them. They may be on their way RIGHT NOW!"

"By 1920 they will be half-way down the Amazon. I fix 1950 or '60 at the
latest for the discovery of Europe."

posted by Chrysostom at 8:22 AM on January 18, 2012


« Older Robbie Basho Archive Live Shows   |   Piston engine goes boing-boing-boing, but the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments