shiny speedy ant
October 16, 2019 6:38 PM   Subscribe

These Desert Ants Gallop at a Blistering 108 Body Lengths Per Second "Just how quick these iridescent arthropods can be, and how they achieve those speeds, is explained for the first time today in the Journal of Experimental Biology (paywalled). Saharan silver ants can travel at 108 body lengths a second, the researchers found. This makes them one of the fastest known running species, bested only by the California coastal mite and the Australian tiger beetle."
posted by dhruva (18 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fants.
posted by Pastor of Muppets at 6:40 PM on October 16, 2019 [10 favorites]


Biology is cray
posted by Windopaene at 6:43 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


The article already breaks down what it would mean for a human to move that fast but I did the math too and I find "417 miles per hour" is a lot more immediately relatable than a "9 second mile"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:56 PM on October 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


bested only by the California coastal mite and the Australian tiger beetle

I would have expected the cheetah beetle, but that's nature, always full of surprises. Turns out I was way off and the cheetah beetle is just a normal slow-moving cheetah-sized beetle.
posted by compartment at 7:18 PM on October 16, 2019 [13 favorites]


shiny speedy ant

Fantastic username up for grabs!
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:21 PM on October 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


They may be the fastest, but the biggest are still the eleph-ants
posted by chappell, ambrose at 7:33 PM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


Turns out the California Coast Mite (Paratarsotomus macropalpis) runs a bewildering 322 body lengths a second.
posted by kmkrebs at 10:17 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Based on the numbers I assume these unladen Desert Ants.
posted by srboisvert at 10:56 PM on October 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


ooh I have seen these guys in the desert, and they look like tiny chrome robots
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:16 PM on October 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


They're beautiful, and even their legs are silvered.

They move so fast it looks like they're flying, and I wondered about airfoil features to those little bodies but I didn't see any — although in profile maybe they do look a little more wasp-like than other ants I've seen, so perhaps there is some optimization to reduce drag going on there.
posted by jamjam at 11:18 PM on October 16, 2019


The legs look red in the Guardian pictures, but the one extreme closeup in the BBC video at the Discover blog did make them look silver to me.
posted by jamjam at 12:28 AM on October 17, 2019


The silvering is more likely a thermoregulation function (i.e. reflect light to keep cool) rather than to reduce drag.
posted by dhruva at 4:58 AM on October 17, 2019


Ants are objectively one of the best animal groups on the planet and I'm not just saying that because they're my favourite. I hadn't seen these zippy chrome gals yet but they're stunning. Being silver makes a ton of sense for their environment and if you're going to live in the hot desert sand, I can see why a species would do well to evolve speed. I'm going to keep these ants in mind next time someone is trying to rub cheetah blood on something to make it go faster, these ants are way faster in scale!
posted by GoblinHoney at 7:50 AM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ants are objectively one of the best animal groups on the planet

Ants have about the same biomass as humans, and have built about as much as we have, in terms of mass of stuff moved.

They can solve complex optimization problems and are probably better than we are at estimating area (via buffon’s needle and counting their steps.

They’ve also managed to never start a world war or commit genocide, though some of them do make ‘slaves’ (although I’d argue that isn’t a fair term, because the slaves have all the rights and privileges they would if they had not been kidnapped, but I digress)

Anyway, people talk about rats, roaches, etc, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s ants that rule the world.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:05 AM on October 17, 2019 [5 favorites]


They may be the fastest, but the biggest are still the eleph-ants

You are forgetting the gi-ants.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:16 AM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


The researchers built sandy-bottomed half pipes for the ants to run through in both the desert and lab conditions. Video cameras mounted above tracked how they moved. Comparisons between each video frame showed the researchers where the feet landed and let them calculate how fast each step was, while measurements of dissected limbs and torsos revealed how large the ants’ steps were compared to the rest of their body.
Half pipes should only be the start. I'm now imagining researchers building tiny dry pools with sick ramps to better understand which insect can pull the craziest stunts.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:06 AM on October 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


They’ve also managed to never start a world war or commit genocide.

They commit genocide on other ant colonies every chance they get, and eat the loser's babies! E. O. Wilson said:

'Their foreign policy can be summed up as follows: restless aggression, territiorial conquest, and genocidal annihilation of neighboring colonies... If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably end the world in a week.'
posted by agentofselection at 11:55 AM on October 17, 2019 [5 favorites]


Bah, I love Wilson as much as anyone but that’s a great example of why lots of people think he’s a bit too anthropomorphic. At the very least, it’s an inaccurate metaphor, a colony is more like a city than a racial group.

But sure, if you want to use human terms, many any species are warlike, and operate similar to a patchwork of continually warring city states.

But not all. There’s essentially one colony of Pharoah’s ants that spans the entire world. If you fly workers from Beijing to NYC they will set to work with their sisters without missing a beat.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:57 AM on October 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


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