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Teamwork keeps fire ants high and dry

The physics that floats a bug's boat

3:59pm, April 25, 2011

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Fire ants know how to survive when the waters rise: They turn their bodies into life rafts.

A new study explores the physics that keeps fire ant lifeboats, waterborne colonies sometimes containing tens of thousands of bugs, afloat. Linked together, the ants can form a watertight seal that keeps them from drowning, engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta report the week of April 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

And the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts, says Julia Parrish, a zoologist at the University of Washington in Seattle: "The properties the group displays are not necessarily predictable by

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