Sahara-Dwelling Ants Have Secret Heat Shield

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.

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