The ants that build bridges with their bodies

Warrior: Ants have a skeleton on the outside of their body that acts as built-in armour.

Should we be more like ants? The insects use maths and teamwork to make living bridges to stop each other falling. Copying their skills could help us build roads, buildings and even robots.

What’s happening

The forest seems quiet and peaceful. But on the ground, more than 200,000 ants are running along the ground. They look like a moving carpet almost 100 metres long.

The ants are blind. They have no leader. But with teamwork, they have success. They have enough food for the whole colony.

Find out more

Army ants are famous for their raids. Moving at 13 centimetres per second, they can catch up to 3,000 pieces of prey every hour.

It is not easy. The tiny insects have to climb over barriers like tree roots. They have to get over gaps in the ground.

Now, research shows they do it by making living bridges with their bodies. They acts as a safety net for the ants that are still running. It stops them slipping and falling when running on steep ground. The bridge system even helps them run up walls.

Architects say the army ants could help them design new buildings. The science could also be used to make self-healing metal – or robots that can explore dangerous environments and help each other.

Should we be more like ants?

Some say…

We can learn a lot about teamwork. Ants are tiny, but when they get together, they can make roads over 20 metres wide. Every ant has its own job. At the end, they all share the food they have caught together. Plus, we could now use the skills ants use to build amazing technology. Of course we should be more like ants!

Others think…

We already ARE like ants. We are great at teamwork as well. We just use it in different ways. Humans have advanced so that we do not need teams just to get food. Instead, we have teams of people who go to space. We have reached the top of Mount Everest and gone to the bottom of the sea. We have nothing more to learn from ants.

You Decide

  1. Do you prefer individual sports or being part of a team?

Activities

  1. You are an army ant that has been separated from the rest of the colony. Write a story about your adventure trying to find them again.

Some People Say...

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!”

The Bible, Proverbs 6:6

What do you think?

Word Watch

Colony
Ants are social insects which means they live in big groups called colonies. Bigger colonies have millions of ants in them.
Army ants
A group of over 200 ant species. They are all known as army ants because of their tactics for getting food: hunting in groups.
Raids
An attack usually made as a group with the plan to steal or attack something.
Prey
The food the ants hunt, kill and eat. Most army ants attack different ants and other insects. But some use their raids to attack frogs, lizards and some birds.
Barriers
Something that blocks the way.
Design
To think up and plan out in the mind. An architect is somebody who designs buildings.
Self-healing
Something with the ability to grow back after being broken or changed.

Subjects

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