One of the exciting things about life on Earth is that there are creatures designed to survive, even in hostile environments. A good example is the Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina), the world’s fastest ant species.
These ants thrive in the Sahara desert, where the sand’s daytime temperature can be as high as 140 degrees F (60 degrees C). In fact, these ants’ primary food is the remains of other insects that have died from the heat. Saharan silver ants play an important environmental role by helping to keep the desert clean. But how do they survive the heat?
Researchers have found that these ants are designed to move extremely fast. They can travel 108 times their body length in one second. That would be equal to a human running 1 ½ football fields in one second. Have you ever been barefoot on the beach and had to sprint over the hot sand? The ants run so fast that each foot is in contact with the ground for only seven milliseconds. That is not long enough for the heat to threaten the ant’s survival. Researchers say the muscle contraction speed is unique to Saharan silver ants, and it is at the limit of what the ant’s body can withstand, making them the world’s fastest ant species.
We see life no matter where we look on planet Earth. Life prevails from the hot desert sands to the extreme pressure and darkness of the deepest part of the oceans. Through the system of plant and animal life, even the extremes, God has provided for the needs of humans.
The survival of living things in extreme conditions is always fascinating. There are places on Earth, such as the Sahara Desert, where the temperature on the ground can soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Even in that extreme heat there are living things functioning very well in conditions that would be lethal to most forms of life.
Extreme survival is a way of life for the Saharan silver ants (Cataglyphis bombycina). The predators of these ants are desert lizards that retreat into their burrows in the heat of the day. Some of the ants keep watch to let the others know when the lizards are gone. Then the ant colony makes its food-search expedition. They come out into the full Sun and intense heat to scavenge animal carcasses. The picture shows them devouring an engorged camel tick.
The question is, “How do they survive the heat?” They have longer legs than most ants, and that keeps their bodies farther from the hot sand. They also travel across the sand at high speed (2.3 feet or 0.7 meters per second) using only four of their six legs to keep fewer feet on the ground. Also, their bodies produce heat-shock proteins that help their cells cope with the stress of the high temperature. Many animals produce heat-shock proteins, but not until they are exposed to extreme heat. The Saharan silver ants are programmed to produce those proteins before heat exposure to prepare them for what’s ahead.
Even with those adaptations, they are still exposed to the direct rays of the Sun. Scientists used electron microscopes to find the secret of the Saharan silver ant’s survival. The ants are covered with microscopic hairs that are not round or oval in cross-section like most hairs. They have a triangle shape to act as prisms. This shape reflects both the visible and infrared (heat) energy from the Sun away from their bodies. Because of these tiny prisms, the ants display a metallic shine. They look like metallic beads rolling quickly over the desert sand. No other desert creature has this form of reflection. Saharan silver ants are among the most heat-resistant creatures in the world.