Ants With Superhero Powers and Real Ant-People


As an ant man, I’m psyched for the release of Ant-Man.

There are so many ants with real superpowers, that we know about because of amazing Real Ant People, genuine ant savants. Let me tell you about some ants with amazing superpowers.

Two classic superhero powers of ants are flight and invisibility.

Did you know that ants without wings can fly? Some ants use their bodies and legs to hang glide through the air. The pros at this are turtle ants, Cephalotes spp. Check out how turtle ants can fly when you drop them:

The #RealAntPerson Steve Yanoviak can tell you all about gliding ants.

Okay, ants can fly. But how can ants be invisible?

Ants can be invisible to other ants. Thieving ants (Ectatomma ruidum) have thieves that sneak undetected into nests of other colonies. They do this by going invisible, putting a chemical invisibility cloak on their exoskeletons that keeps other ants from seeing them. Or something like that. There are also invisible ants that spend their whole lives living inside the colonies of other species ants, living as social parasites.

Jenny Jandt can tell you about thieving ants, and for socially parasitic ants, you can hear about them from #RealAntPerson Susanne Foitzik.

There are also ants with superhero-strength antennae. The desert ant Cataglyphis can smell a crumb of food more than 300 feet away. (And then run to it so quickly on the hot sand that only one leg touches the ground at a time). Learn more about these extraordinary creatures from David Attenborough:

The Marvel universe is filled with superheroes with rather, um, obscure powers. Ants are the same way.

Fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) colonies travel great distances by swimming. When it floods, everybody bands together into a big ball — larvae and all — and just float away. Here’s some amazing footage showing how they do this:

Lots of people know about fire ants, but the #RealAntPerson who knows about how they engineer their ant rafts is Nathan Mlot.

What’s the fastest animal ever? Trap Jaw ants. At least, the fastest predatory apparatus ever. They close their jaws a the rate of 131 feet per second! They can even use these turbo-powered jaws to fly themselves into the air away from predators. Learn more about ant jaws from #RealAntPerson Fred Larabee.

Then, there are the immortal ants, with colonies that live forever so long as they never leave their Devil’s Gardens:

Want to know more about ants in Devil’s Gardens? #RealAntPerson Megan Frederickson knows all about them.

A mutant superpower of ants is the ability to clone oneself. Yes, there are clonal ants! You can talk to #RealAntPerson Dan Kronauer about some of them.

But you know what a real clonal superpower is? To be a male and create a clonal version of oneself! That’s what Little Fire Ants do. In an amazing feat of genetic sorcery that we’re still working to figure out, males are able to get queens to make genetic copies of the males, generation after generation. One #RealAntPerson to tell you about clonal males is Denis Fournier.

True heroes are those that give their lives to protect their families. Some ant colonies seal off their nest entrances for the night, and in at least one species, ants sent outside the nest to create the protective seal sacrifice themselves, as most don’t survive the night.

We have yet to discover ants that burst into flames, but there are ants that actually explode themselves as a defensive mechanism Seriously, they explode themselves as a defense strategy.

And then there are Vampire ants. Talk to #RealAntPerson Brian Fisher about them.

Zombie ants are real. A fungus takes over the brains of ants and turns them into zombies. Talk to #RealAntPerson David Hughes to hear about them.

This is just a small introduction to superhero ants, and an equivalently minuscule subset of the extraordinary scientists that are continuing to make discoveries about ants. Ants are a big part of the natural world, so there are many of us who spend out careers learning about their biology. On twitter you can learn about more #RealAntPeople.

2 thoughts on “Ants With Superhero Powers and Real Ant-People

  1. To paraphrase Toy Story: it’s not flying; it’s falling with style.

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