Issue Date: June 22, 2015
Terminator Ant Survives Sahara With Silvery Armor
In the Sahara desert’s blistering sun, many insects desiccate into crispy corpses. These are devoured by one bug that isn’t destroyed by the heat: Looking like mini insect Terminators, silver ants (Cataglyphis bombycina) can forage in temperatures as high as 125 °F (52 °C) because they are protected from the sun by armor that reflects sunlight and helps dissipate heat (Science 2015, DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3564). The armor is composed of a dense array of hairs that look like pointy, triangular rods, reports a research team led by insect neurobiologist Rüdiger Wehner of the University of Zurich and Columbia University physicist Nanfang Yu. They say it is the first example of an animal that can “control electromagnetic waves over an extremely broad range of the electromagnetic spectrum,” from the visible to the mid-infrared. “This biological solution for a thermoregulatory problem” could inspire biomimetic coatings that provide passive radiative cooling, the team notes. They are already working on a silicon mimic but have no immediate plans to chemically characterize the unusual protein-chitin composite armor, Wehner says. So a chemist is more than welcome to do so, he adds.
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