Ants can climb walls and much more. Their legs feature several adaptations which allow them to stick to walls and even stay suspended upside down on the ceiling. Add the fact that they’re incredibly strong and capable of supporting themselves with minimal effort, then you’ve got a creature which seemingly doesn’t get affected by gravity.
In this article, we’ll look into ant anatomy as we try to discover how they can climb walls and other surfaces. We’ll also look into their limitations as we discuss what specific surfaces they can and can’t climb.
How Do Ants Climb Walls?
With how effortlessly ants climb walls vertically, one might think that they’re not subject to gravity. But that of course is not the case, as gravity affects even the smallest of organisms. What’s actually in play here is ant anatomy, or more specifically, the structure of their legs.
Ant legs feature three specific adaptations that help them climb walls. These are as follows:
Pretarsal Adhesive Pads. Ants have adhesive pads called arolia right between the claws of their feet. These soft and flexible pads secrete small amounts of fluid which mediate its adhesion to surfaces. Simply put, these pads and the fluid they secrete gives ants sticky feet which help them attach to smooth surfaces by virtue of capillary adhesion.
Claws. At the end of each ant leg are claws which they use to climb and hang on to things. Similar to how a rock climber uses a hook, ants use their claws to grip onto the rough features of a surface. Keep in mind that what may seem smooth to us, can be jagged especially to tiny creatures like ants. So our seemingly smooth walls may actually be full of cracks and edges that ants can easily cling and climb on.
Hair. Finally, ants have dense hairs on their feet which generate friction and work alongside both adhesive pads and claws to help ants stick and climb surfaces. Again, this is as seemingly smooth surfaces may actually be filled with tiny bumps and holes that serve as footholds to these tiny hairs.
Aside from their leg structure, it also helps that ants are incredibly strong for their size. Because of this, ants are fully capable of supporting their weight with minimal effort even as they climb vertically or even upside down.
What Can Ants Climb?
While climbing ability may vary between species, ants are capable of climbing most surfaces. As long as their pads and hairs can do their work, then they can climb even smooth surfaces such as glass, tiles, plastic, and stainless steel.
What Can’t Ants Climb?
Even if they’re adept at climbing, ants still have limits. They can’t, for instance, climb wet and slippery surfaces such as those that have been applied with oil-based products or anti-adhesive chemicals such as Fluon or Teflon.
In fact, the latter chemicals are commonly used by ant keeping hobbyists in preventing ants from escaping their nests. Because these chemicals make surfaces particularly smooth, ants won’t be able to grip onto them and instead slip and fall back into where they started.
Can Ants Climb On Ceilings?
Yes, ants can climb on ceilings. They do so in the same way that they climb walls though the special adaptations they have on their feet. Meaning, they use the same adhesive pads, claws, and hairs, to cling and climb ceilings even as they’re upside down.
Can Ants Climb Glass?
As mentioned, ants can climb on most surfaces including glass. Their adhesive pads give them sticky feet and allow them to stick onto glass surfaces without any issues. Also, as smooth as glass is, it actually contains many small bumps and edges that tiny creatures like ants can hang and climb onto.
Can Ants Walk On Water?
Ants mostly get submerged, but some can walk on water. For example, research has discovered that the smaller workers of the ant species F. subsericea are not only capable of swimming but also moving on water while their bodies are fully supported above the surface.
Do Ants Take Fall Damage?
Ants don’t get hurt from falling no matter how high a distance they fall. Their terminal velocities are simply too low, meaning they fall slowly and thus the impact force when they hit the ground isn’t fatal. To add to that, their bodies are equipped with an exoskeleton that can deform, absorb, and spread the impact from a fall.
To recap, ants are amazing climbers. Their pretarsal adhesive pads, hooked claws, and the dense hairs on their feet all work together to allow ants to climb basically any surface, be that walls, the ceiling, and even smoother ones such as glass, plastic, or metal. This is given though that these surfaces are not applied with any slippery substance such as oils or other chemicals, otherwise, ants would actually slip and fall.