Courtesy of Verena Wahl
You remember Atom Ant? Not Adam Ant, the new wave rocker — Atom Ant, the cartoon character. Atom Ant was fast, but is he as fast as the silver ants of the Sahara?
In the deserts of the northern Sahara, blink and you may miss the fastest ants in the world.
These speedy silver ants "travel 108 times their body length per second and have stride rate 10 times that of Usain Bolt," according to The Guardian, scampering across scorching sands. These Saharan silver ants, known as Cataglyphis bombycina, in the science world, "emerge from their nests and zip about looking for food — often the carcasses of less fortunate creatures that have succumbed to the brutal temperatures," writes The Guardian's science editor, Ian Sample. That works out to about 120 mph.
The World's host Marco Werman talked with Sarah Pfeffer, who studies animal behavior as a biologist at Ulm University in Germany, about her fieldwork, focused on Saharan silver ants in the deserts of Douz, Tunisia. Her new study about the incredibly fast ants in the Sahara appears in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
Courtesy of Verena Wahl
Sarah Pfeffer: There has been a lot of research with desert ants and of course, researchers already saw these ants and they know they are fast.
We used high-speed recording to analyze those runs. Of course, you just can't take a measuring tape or clock next to your side. So we [installed] some channels on the desert floor.
Courtesy of Sarah Pfeffer
Yeah, exactly. You can. It's a U-shaped aluminum channel and we just installed it in the desert. So it makes the work easy for us.
Depends on your size.
One meter seven? [Multiplied] 108 times your body length. You have to run 180 meters per second. (Editor's note: This translates to roughly 402 mph.)
So, they have six legs, three legs in two groups. It's almost like walking as humans do.
Courtesy of H. Wolf
They are living in a very hot desert environment. So, to not fall victim to the heat, they need to be very fast. This is one aspect. The second aspect is that they have to go quite long distances. They are living in the desert and there is almost no food around.
What we haven't said yet is that they are leaving their nest during the midday sun, which sounds crazy to go out in this heat, but there is an advantage [in] that there are not many predators around. So, the predators don't like the midday sun. They just search for some shadow to cool down. But these desert ants then they are able to go there. And of course, if they are going there, they really need to be fast.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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