The study of insects continues to find design features that enable them to survive when it seems their enemies should wipe them out. The numerous ant species have a variety of defense mechanisms. Entomologists at the University of Wisconsin have discovered ant armor for leafcutter ants.
Leafcutter ants are small and must protect themselves from larger predatory ants. Researchers found that they have a tough coat of mineral armor. Entomologists studying Acromyrmex echinatior worker ants found that their exoskeleton has a thin white protective coating. After trying various methods to remove that mysterious layer, researchers discovered that it is calcite with high magnesium levels.
The thin protective layer, only 7% of the exoskeleton’s thickness, more than doubles the leafcutter ant’s hardness. When larger soldier ants of another species attacked, they were not able to kill the leaf cutterants.
Ant armor for leafcutter ants is similar to the mineral protection that crabs and other crustaceans have, but scientists had not discovered it in ants before. How did these ants get this protection? Researchers theorize that external microbes the ants carry are responsible. That means this is another example of symbiosis between species–another evidence of design. The scientist leading this study said that learning how this tough coating forms could help technicians develop protective coatings for various products.
It seems that God has given every species of life on this planet protection against their natural enemies. Not only must all lifeforms have a ready supply of food and adequate water, but they must have physical protection. Ant armor for leafcutter ants is only one example of God’s intricate design for life.
— John N. Clayton © 2021
Reference: Science News, December 19, 2020.