Science News

Fire Ant Fabric

50% Cotton, 40% Polyester, 10% Fire ant?

Could fire ants be the new fabric on the market? Though probably not in the close future, their extraordinary traits are helping scientists come up with new materials.

While a single fire ant is not that remarkable, when hundreds, or even thousands, of them act together in emergencies, they can take on exceptional properties. For example, during floods (which can happen daily in the rainforest), the ants hook legs and mouths to create a living “material” which can then float for up to several weeks until the flood subsides. This “material” can also resist many forces, through the ants rearranging themselves, and then returning to their original position, as if rubber, allowing them to dodge obstacles, such as rocks.

Through coming up with equations to describe these movements, the team involved in this research is hoping to create self-arranging robots, which could access hard to reach spaces, or to create self-healing materials, which could repair themselves if there has been damage.

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