Sahara-Dwelling Ants Have Secret Heat Shield
The silver ant stands out as it marches across the desert sands, appearing as a flash of metal. They are only able to make forays outside their burrows lasting for ten minutes at a time in the midday heat, but that is enough to survive in this harsh environment.
Scientists have long wondered how this creature can withstand temperatures beyond 150 degrees, and thrive. Recent research shows that it’s the ants coating of hairs that protect its body from both sun and heat.
Nature’s engineering has created a system of tubular hairs with a triangular shape, the bottom or flat part of the triangle facing down against the ant’s body. Between that flat bottom is an air pocket.
The hairs have two functions that work to protect the creature from overheating. Their triangular shape and color are anti-reflective, reducing the penetration of sunlight and therefore heat into the body. At the same time, the hairs grow straight up but run parallel to the surface of the ants’ bodies, with an important air pocket that allows for cooling. The two features work together in efficient combination.
The study’s conclusions have been published in the journal Science. The researchers are now on the path to copying this amazing system to create a “metasurface” that could withstand very high temperatures.
Crazy ants. Named one of the most invasive species of bugs, their sudden explosion in population has brought a large amount of attention to southern states such as Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida. Named for their psychotic behavior, crazy ants often try to get into any space that they’re able to fit. Although the ants do not have a harmful bite to humans, they still cause many problems for homeowners or farmers who often find their homes, appliances or even their bodies to be covered in the small insects. Ants even crowd around animals such as cows or chickens, leading to asphyxiation. This large amount of small bugs is quickly becoming a problem. And so far, there hasn’t been a method found which stops them.
Originally found in Texas in 2002, crazy ants are descendants of Nylanderia pubens, a species of ant which has been in Florida since the 1950s. However, those ants are much more relaxed and less invasive – many scientists at first doubted that such insane ants could be relatives of this calm species. But as the number of ants quickly multiplied, people knew something must be done. In 1999, the National Invasive Species Council was founded in order to combat the effects that intrusive species. This included 13 federal agencies and departments. Groups such as the Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service all combined in order to work together against these up and coming menaces. As the amount of crazy ants rapidly grew, the attention to the NISC did as well. They summoned a committee of different educational entomologists and state representatives to pool their information. Most concluded that to begin to combat these invaders, a great amount of funding would be needed. But this meeting took place in 2008, when the American economy began to fall. Money would be short on hand, especially for such a minor issue as this. Even now, the government spends over $120 billion a year on intrusive species that take over different environments. The imported red fire ant costs over $1 billion a year – to Texas alone. Crazy ants, which are spreading much faster than fire ants, could quickly become an expensive problem.
What can homeowners do to prevent infestations?
- Seal points of entry around the house including small openings and cracks around doors and windows.
- Clean up food spills, keep honeydew in closed containers in the fridge and remove other potential attractants as soon as possible.
- Remove potential nest sites/debris from around the exterior of the home
- If you suspect an infestation, call a professional to evaluate the best course of treatment.
Someone captured footage recently of an ant colony working together to haul off an enormous dinner. Some ants crawl under and support the meal, while others form a chain to pull it away. Together, the ants are able to move something hundreds of thousands of times their weight.
The footage was posted to LiveLeak. Check it out:
WHAT IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE TYPE OF ANT TREATMENT AND HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
A trained and licensed pest professional is the best person to make a recommendation based on the proper identification of a particular ant species and the threats they could pose to health and property. Also, homeowners may have a preference as to which treatment is used, so it is important that they have a detailed conversation with their pest control company. The cost of the treatments can vary depending on the size of the infestation and the property being treated.
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To prevent crazy ants from gaining access to a structure, experts at Hulett Environmental Services recommend:
- Trim vegetation away from the home to prevent pathways inside.
- Seal all cracks and crevices on the outside of the home, including around doors and windows.
- Clean up food spills and other potential attractants as soon as possible.
- If an infestation is suspected, contact a licensed pest professional to treat the problem.
For more information on crazy ants, please visit www.bugs.com
A recent survey of pest professionals across the country, conducted by the National Pest Management Association, found kitchens (96%) and bathrooms (89%) to be particularly vulnerable to ants.
It’s probably not a surprise the kitchen is considered a favorite ant hangout. In addition to food access, the sink provides a water source that ants need to survive. If you’re lax about immediately cleaning up crumbs and spills, you may be inviting ants in. Here are a few tips to keep ants out of the kitchen:
- Store sweet staples like sugar, syrup and honey in plastic containers that snap shut, and wipe them down to remove any sticky residue. You can also place a bay leaf inside canisters of dry goods like flour to keep the ants out. The herb’s pungent scent repels ants and other common pantry pests.
- Clean up grease spills from countertops and floors as soon as they happen.
- Any empty juice or soda containers should be rinsed out before recycling or throwing away. And, make sure to take the trash out regularly.
- Check the fruit bowl – any over ripe fruit will attract ants.
- Keep an eye out for water buildup in the sink and leaks around the faucet.
- If you have pets, be sure to pick up any leftover food and wash the bowls regularly.
Areas around the house with excess moisture are known to attract ants, so bathrooms are highly susceptible to an infestation. Carpenter ants, for example, often build nests in damp areas like behind bathroom tiles or under sinks. To prevent an infestation in the bathroom, homeowners should:
- Occasionally, inspect sinks, toilets and tubs for any leaks or drips.
- Give the bathroom a thorough cleaning by scrubbing the floors with disinfectant cleaner, and wiping down the inside of drawers with warm soapy water.
- Check to ensure shampoo, lotion and soap bottles are secured and no contents have spilled out of their containers.
Other Common Hideouts
Ants can easily find a way indoors through even the tiniest cracks, so other areas of the home are also common hideouts. The NPMA survey revealed ants are also found in the following areas:
- Inside walls (73%)
- Bedrooms (61%)
- Living rooms (60%)
- Basements (54%)
- Air conditioning and heating units (37%)
To keep ants from finding a way inside, homeowners should pest-proof around the outside of the home. Experts recommend sealing any cracks with silicone caulk, repairing holes in window and door screens, replacing weather-stripping, fixing loose mortar around the basement foundation and windows, and keeping tree branches trimmed back and away from the house.
Hulett Environmental Services recommends the following five simple steps that homeowners can do today to thwart an ant infestation.
1. Block off access points. Take time to inspect the outside of your home for cracks and crevices, paying special attention to areas where utility pipes enter. Seal any small holes or gaps with a silicone-based caulk. Keep tree branches and other shrubbery well trimmed and away from the structure.
2. Eliminate sources of water in and around the home. Indoors, routinely check under sinks for areas of moisture and repair any leaky pipes. Consider using a dehumidifier in damp basements, crawl spaces or attics. Outside, ensure that downspouts and gutters are functioning properly so that water flows away from the home’s foundation.
3. Keep a clean kitchen. Wipe down counter tops and sweep floors to removecrumbs and residue from spills. Store food in sealed containers, and keep ripe fruit in the refrigerator. Also, make sure to dispose of garbage regularly.
4. Don’t forget about the pets. After mealtime, keep pet bowls clean and wipe up any spilled food or water around them promptly. Store dry pet food in a sealed plastic container rather than the paper bags they often come in, which can be easily accessed by ants, rodents and other pests.
5. Work with a pest professional. Eliminating ants can be challenge without the proper treatment. Some species of ants, like carpenter ants, can cause serious property damage while others can pose health threats. If you see ants in your home, contact a licensed pest professional to identify the species and recommend a course of treatment.