How leafcutter ants keep from being blown away

first_imgFor thousands of years, humans have used sails to harness the power of the wind. Tiny leafcutter ants catch the wind, too—only these ants aren’t doing it on purpose. Leafcutter ants regularly go on foraging expeditions for the plants they feed to their fungus “gardens.” But the ants can get blown off the trail by the wind, especially if they’re lugging around a leaf several times their size. A study published this month in Behavioral Ecology shows that in windy conditions—both natural and humanmade—the ants pick smaller and lighter plant pieces. The pieces are also longer, making them less likely to catch the wind and blow the ants off course. The authors estimate that in natural wind, all ants get blown off the trail twice as often as usual. In experiments using humanmade wind—gusts of air blasting from computer fans—ants brought back half as many leaves. Such dire outcomes mean less food for the fungus, and less fungus for the ants, making these accidental sailing trips a matter of life-or-death for the colony.last_img

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