Researchers have found that the Saharan Silver ant’s hair allows the insect to travel under great temperatures in the desert. Thanks to their silver hair and unusual triangular hair shape, the silver ant is able to stay cool in the desert.
The Saharan Silver ant or the Cataglyphis Bombycina is a small ant that lives in the Sahara desert,where mostly bugs, insects, snakes and scorpions are found.
The Sahara is one of the hottest deserts on the planet, making it really difficult for the creatures living in it to stand. It’s formed by sand dunes that cover as to 10 African countries, with a regular temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because of the desert’s high temperatures the scurrying creatures that live in it, tend to go outside only when the sun is down or cooler. But the Saharan Silver ant is able to avoid dangerous creatures by traveling when the sun it’s at is hottest, thanks to their body hair.
The Silver ant
The Saharan Silver ant protects itself from predators by leaving their nest for only 10 minutes per day, but thanks to their unique adaptations that’s all they need.
The C. Bombycina possesses longer legs that other ants, this way they keep their body away from the hot sand. When the insect travels at is full speed, it only uses four of their six legs, thanks to their powerful front pair of legs.
The silver ant is also capable of tracking the position of the sun, allowing them to navigate the desert knowing the way back to the nest. They also produce heat shock proteins, but unlike other animals, this ant produces them before leaving the nest.
The proteins allow cellular functions to continue even under great heat temperatures, allowing them to protect from high temperatures.
The colony of the ants has a few scouts on the nest to alert the colony for upcoming lizards and dangerous creatures. While other colony workers leave the nest to search for food.
Silver hair protection
A previous study on the ant’s hair protection was made last year by a team of scientists at Columbia University
Using infrared cameras the team found that the ant’s hair divided the light and reflected it into different spectrums, allowing the animal to block incoming sunlight and cooling the thermal radiation in their bodies.
A recent study made by scientists at Belgium has discovered that the hair protection of the silver ant, was a lot deeper than previously thought.
The ant’s hair has a triangular cross-section shape – normally animals and humans tend to have a more cylindrical hair shape- with two corrugated surfaces that allow the hair to reflect sunlight in visible ranges.
The hair in the ant has thermoregulatory properties, which enables the animal to maintain a lower thermal steady state, while traveling high temperatures of their natural habitat.
Using scanning electron microscopes the researchers were able to trace the paths of light rays reflected in the ant, as they contacted the hair. Most of the animals and humans hair have direct contact with the cuticle of the being, but this is not the case for Silver ants.
The Saharan silver ant’s hair has an outer layer of cells between each hair and its cuticle this means the hair doesn’t have a direct contact with the ants body protecting them from high temperatures.
Co-author of the study Serger Aron states that “ The hairs work as prisms reflecting light, this reflection proceeds within each hair: The light enters the prisms but is reflected on the basal plane of each hair. If the hair were in contact with the cuticle, no reflectivity would be expected” Said the co-author.
With the reflection of light, the silver ant’s hair is able to reflect more than 90 percent of the light it receives, keeping the ant almost 3 degrees cooler and preventing overheating. This is also the cause for the sheen characteristic of the hair.
This discovery will inspire new human technology for synthetic materials that could copy these cooling effects.
Source: PLoS ONE