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.
Yesterday we wrote about leaf-cutting ants that engage in farming activity, which we used to think only humans did. The 1994 Disney movie Lion King started many people thinking about what these ants do. There is another tool leafcutter ants have that is impressive. These ants use vibratome to cut leaves.
Vibratome is sound emissions that alter the structure of matter close to the sound. Biologists use sound waves to prepare specimens to be sliced for microscopic examination. The sound waves cause soft material to become more rigid and, therefore, easier to cut. Ants had used vibratomes long before scientists discovered it.
As we said yesterday, leafcutter ants in the Atta genus slice off sections of leaves and carry them to their nests to feed the fungi they harvest. Researchers have found that as the ants cut, they chirp at a frequency of 1000 hertz. That sound frequency rigidizes soft leaf tissue, making it easier to cut. Vibratome is a technically sophisticated technique and one you would expect skilled technicians to use. Materials science is a relatively new field, and yet ants have it built into their DNA to chirp at a specific frequency as they cut leaves to feed the fungi they eat.
How is it that ants use vibratome to cut leaves? How did they know that it would stiffen the leaves and allow them to make a smoother cut? Scientists further discovered that the vibratome effect does not speed up the leaf-cutting. However, it enables a smoother cutting of the tender leaves, which the scientific report said gives “the most desirable harvest for the ants.”
God created the leaves as well as the ants that use the leaves to feed the fungi they eat. He gave the ants wisdom to use vibratome to cut leaves. The writer of Proverbs reflects God’s wisdom and intelligence in 6:6-8, “Go to the ant … consider her ways, and be wise.”