Ants don’t care whether they fall off a table or the Empire State Building, either way they end up surviving. Due to their anatomy, certain adaptations, and a physics concept called terminal velocity, ants rarely get hurt or die from falling.
In this article we look into the secret of how ants can survive falling from amazing heights. We’ll discuss terminal velocity, how their bodies allow for safer falls, and adaptations that ants have developed to further protect themselves from falling.
What Is Terminal Velocity?
Terminal velocity is the constant speed that a free-falling object eventually reaches. This occurs when resistance of the medium, like air resistance for example, becomes equal with the force of gravity and thus prevents further acceleration. In other words, terminal velocity is achieved when a moving object’s acceleration or deceleration is zero.
Think of it this way, a free falling object is pulled down by gravity while also being pushed up by air resistance. When these two oppositely directed forces are equal, total force is zero and speed becomes constant.
So how does this concept relate to ants? Well ants have low terminal velocities of around 14.4 km/h (8.94 mph) or less, meaning they fall slowly. This slow fall reduces the impact force on ants when they hit the ground, leading to non-fatal results. For reference, ants fall much slower compared to cats (97 km/h or 60mph) which have been shown capable of surviving falls from great heights.
How Ant Anatomy Allows For Safer Falls
While ants don’t fall hard into the ground, they still have to brace themselves for the hit. Keep in mind, less impact doesn’t mean no impact at all. Fortunately for them though, they’re bodies are equipped with exoskeletons which can deform, absorb, and spread the impact from the fall.
Even if they do sustain injuries or damage to their exoskeletons, ants like other insects have clotting mechanisms which seals off some breaks. This prevents them from bleeding-out (haemolymph loss) and dying from desiccation.
Other than that, ant organs systems are structured such that a huge blow to a specific body part won’t knock them out or kill them. For instance, their nervous system is distributed throughout the body and a hard blow to the head won’t affect them in the same way that it affects vertebrates which either die or get knocked out.
Ants Fall With Style
Scientists have discovered that some ants are capable of gliding. This was first discovered when insect ecologist Stephen P. Yanoviak, perched 100 feet up in a rainforest canopy, noticed that some ants that he had brushed off somehow landed on tree trunks before proceeding to climb back up to the spot from which they’ve fallen.
After further observation, he was able to establish that the ant species Cephalotes atratus, along with other members of the genus, had the ability to glide. From then other ants such as several species of carpenter ants and the wasp-like Pseudomyrmecinae ants were also found to have such ability.
It’s likely that ants, particularly the C. atratus developed this ability to avoid getting lost or dying from falling on the forest floor which may be either flooded or filled with predators. Either way, the ability to glide presents ants another means to survive falls from great heights, be it through finding a safe spot to land on or by further reducing terminal velocity.
Can Ants Fly?
Some species of ants develop wings and the ability to fly during the reproductive stage. These are typically the drones and young queens which swarm once a year to undergo a nuptial flight where they seek to mate and breed the next generation of the colony.
Do Ants Die In Water?
Yes, ants can die in water. But it often takes a while before they do. Some ant species can survive weeks in water as long as their spiracles remain dry and capable of taking in oxygen.
Given their slow terminal velocity, their exoskeletons built to absorb impact, and in the case of some ants, the ability to glide, it’s basically impossible for an ant to die from falling. In fact, they rarely even take any sort of fall damage.
How cool would it be if we were capable of the same? As I say that though, I think it can get quite scary seeing people gliding and just jumping around from tall buildings.