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Flood’s rising? Quick, start peeing!

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12:48pm, January 20, 2001

Rainforest ants fight floods in their nests with a last-resort effort that scientists have now dubbed communal peeing.

The Malaysian ant Cataulacus muticus nests only inside the hollows of stalks of giant bamboo, which thrives in tropical humidity. When heavy rains pelt the bamboo, water can sluice into the ant nests and threaten the colony's larvae.

During a storm, ant workers cluster at the nest entrance as if plugging the hole with their heads, report Ulrich Maschwitz and Joachim Moog at J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Some of the water gets by the insects, however.

In the December 2000 issue of Naturwissenschaften, the researchers describe the ants' version of bailing. Workers sip from the growing puddle in the nest and then scurry out into the storm and excrete a droplet onto the bamboo stem.

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