Saharan Desert: Ants use metal-like hair to reflect scorching sunlight

So Disney was right about ants in the ‘Bug’s life’…they are a bunch of tough little cookies to beat! And it turns out even the blistering heat of Saharan Desert cannot make these guys sweat it. They might just be a step ahead of many other species out there, and not just the grasshoppers.

In a study, conducted with colleagues from the University of Zürich and the University of Washington, Professor Yu has compared the ant’s appearance when crossing the desert surface to “a droplet of mercury”.

“This is a telling example of how evolution has triggered the adaptation of physical attributes to accomplish a physiological task and ensure survival, in this case to prevent Sahara silver ants from getting overheated,” Assistant Professor Nanfang Yu of Columbia Engineering said in a recent study.

The tiny little critters are equipped with dense, triangular shaped hair capable of reflecting visible and near-infrared light allowing them to dissipate heat survive temperatures as high as 70°C.

However, he points out that even with these super light-blocking capabilities, the Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina) has its limitations, and can only forage in the scorching desert sun for a maximum of 10 minutes at most – or risk being fried!

Nevertheless, Professor Yu remains optimistic that the ant’s unique trait might be adapted for human use.

“Such biologically inspired cooling surfaces will have high reflectivity in the solar spectrum and high radiative efficiency in the thermal radiation spectrum,” he said.”So this may generate useful applications such as a cooling surface for vehicles, buildings, instruments, and even clothing.”


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