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How ants crawl on walls and defy gravity

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This article was originally conversation.

When I first started working as a biologist At the University of South Florida, I drove a jeep to a grassy field, dug up a pile of fire ants, and shoveled them into a five-gallon bucket. Soon, thousands of ants swarmed out of the dirt and climbed the walls of the bucket to freedom.

How do ants make climbing walls, ceilings, and other surfaces look so easy? I have studied ants for 30 yearsand their climbing abilities never cease to amaze me.

worker ants–who are all women– have something impressive Toolbox of claws, thorns and fur The feet have sticky pads that allow you to scale almost any surface.

human hand and ant foot

To understand ant feet, it is helpful to compare them to human hands. Your hand has one wide part, the palm. The palm has four fingers and an opposable thumb. Each finger has three segments, while the thumb has only two. Hard claws grow from the tips of the fingers and thumbs.

Humans have two hands, but ants have six legs. An ant’s legs are similar to your hands, but they are more complex and have some weird looking parts added.

Close-up view of a single ant leg with multiple body segments. Each paw is lined with pointed tools that help it grip nearly any surface.Debbie Cassill CC BY-ND

Ants have five joints on their feet and a pair of claws on the terminal phalanges. The claws are cat-shaped and can grab uneven walls. Each segment of the foot also has thick and thin spines and hairs that pierce microscopic holes in the bark-like textured surface to provide additional traction. Similar to claws and spines, claws and spines have the added benefit of protecting an ant’s feet from hot pavement and sharp objects.

But the feature that truly distinguishes human hands from ant feet is the inflatable sticky pads called alloria.

sticky feet

Alloria are found between the apical claws of all ant feetThese balloon-like pads allow ants to defy gravity and crawl on super-hard surfaces like ceilings and glass.

How ants crawl on walls and defy gravity
Inflatable adhesive pad enhances adhesion.Debbie Cassill CC BY-ND

When an ant climbs a wall or walks across a ceiling, gravity causes its claws to swing back. At the same time, your leg muscles pump fluid into the pads at the ends of your feet, causing them to swell.this body fluid called hemolymphis a sticky liquid similar to blood that circulates throughout an ant’s body.

After the hemolymph has pumped up the pad, some of it leaks out of the pad. This is how ants stick to walls and ceilings. In this way the ant’s blood is reused many times. It is pumped through the foot into the pad and sucked back into the foot.

Ants are feather-light, so six sticky pads are enough to hold them against gravity on any surface. In fact, in my basement, Ants sleep on the ceiling using sticky padsBy sleeping on the ceiling, ants avoid the rush hour traffic of other ants on the floor of the room.

unique way of walking

When walking, the left and right legs alternate, one on the ground and the other in the air to move forward. Ant also alternates his legs, raising his 3 bodies to the surface and 3 into the air at once.

A computer simulation showing an ant’s special gait. Created by Shihui Guo.

An ant’s walking pattern Unique among six-legged insectsIn ants, the left front and back feet are on the ground, the middle of the right foot is on the ground, and the front and back of the right foot and the middle of the left foot are in the air. Then switch. It’s also fun to imitate this triangular pattern with three fingers on both hands.

The next time you see ants crawling up a wall, look closely and you might see these fascinating features at work.

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