According to a recent study conducted by professors at the University of Zurich and the University of Washington, Saharan silver ants use reflective hair to protect themselves from sunlight. This physiological alteration enables them to procure themselves food during the hottest periods of the day.
The Saharan silver ant species, scientifically known as Cataglyphis bombycina have been in scientists’ attention for many years as they are the only species that manage to survive in the difficult Saharan desert. The mystery was finally solved last month when Assistant Professor Nanfang Yu conducted a research to better understand the peculiarities of these tiny insects.
Close-up pictures and footages have revealed that the silver ants have changed the structure of their hair to enable them to lower their body temperature to bearable limits. Placed under the microscope, the hair turned out to have a triangular shape, very unusual among ants.
Moreover, additional studies have shown that the hair is slightly deviated at the top to form a 90 degree angle. This alignment, coupled with the small space that exists underneath the hair are the perfect combination to ensure lower temperatures of up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The shape and alignment of the hair are not the only aspects that enable ants to move around coolly in the hot desert sand. The color of the hair has also modified throughout the years, becoming more silvery, thus, more reflective. Cataglyphis bombycina ants can reflect sunrays much in the same way as a mirror does.
These species of the ants might be the only survivors of the Saharan desert as there are very few species of animals that live in this area. Temperatures become unbearable during day time as they can reach maximum limits of 158 degrees Fahrenheit.
Professor Yu has closely observed the behavior of the bugs and has come to the conclusion that they only stay in the outdoor for 10 minutes. If they exceed this time interval, ants tend to overheat and in the end, they will die.
Unfortunately, silver ants cannot come out in the desert at different time intervals because this is the only period when they can actually find food. The dead insects that lie in the Saharan sand are blown away by wind and sand storms if the Cataglyphis bombycina are several minutes late.
Nanfang Yu is incredibly pleased with the results of his study and more specifically, with ants’ ability to adapt to the surrounding environment. He hopes the findings will inspire engineers to build heat protection systems for cars, houses and offices, taking into account the physiological peculiarities of the silver ants.
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