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article imageAnt cooling mechanism avoids desert sun

By Tim Sandle     Jul 19, 2015 in Science
Ants found in the Sahara have a novel way of keeping cool from the intensity of the sun’s rays. The small, silver-colored hairs on the ant’s body are able to reflect heat back, stopping the insect from becoming too hot.
Saharan silver ants (Cataglyphis bombycina) are known to forage under extreme temperature conditions in the African desert. The ants do so while remaining relatively cool. This is due to the hairs that give them their characteristic silver color. The tiny hairs have the ability to reflect the sun’s rays away from the insect’s body. The hairs are, in fact, tiny tendrils and they are capable of reflecting away almost all wavelengths of light.
The remarkable hair-cooling system is not only reflective of the sun’s rays. Science News reports that the hairs are also transparent at infrared wavelengths. This allows the Saharan silver ant to also shed heat when they reach a cooler spot (such as hiding underneath a rock.) The ant can, for short periods of time, tolerate temperatures of 47 degrees Celsius (or 116 degrees Fahrenheit).
Despite these protective properties, the ants are active outside their nest for only about 10 minutes per day. They use this time to rapidly forage for food and, at the same time, avoiding the odd predatory lizard.
The discovery, made at the University of Zurich, is not only of biological interest. Scientists hope they can learn from the way the ant has been built so that various cooling devices can be developed to protect people and to design houses and vehicles. This could take the form of so-called “biomimetic coatings,” which could, in theory, radiate heat.
The new research was conducted by a team led by Rüdiger Wehner, an invertebrate neurobiologist. The heat reflecting system of the ant has been reported to the journal Science. The research paper is called “Keeping cool: Enhanced optical reflection and radiative heat dissipation in Saharan silver ants.”
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