One insect from the Sahara desert is so vested in protective measures against the scorching desert heat that it left scientists baffled.
It is impressive that an organism so small developed such protective mechanisms that mirror at a microscale the continuous debate in our world regarding fending off heat and developing technologies that can do so in order to protect vegetation, habitats and communities.
The insect at the center of the discussion is the silver ant, common to the Sahara desert and scientifically known as Cataglyphis bombycina.
Researchers from Columbia University looked at the body of the tiny Saharan silver ant and discovered that it has developed a multitude of mechanisms that allow it survival in the scorching desert heat. The surprising findings of the research are published in Science Magazine.
Its unique adaptive mechanism also gives the insect its name. Researchers are talking about smooth, shimmering, short and dense silver hairs covering the modular bodies to lower their temperature and allow survival.
The Saharan silver ant prefers the highest temperature hours to venture out of its den and prey on insect and animal remnants while the other predators that threaten its life are hiding from the scorching sun.
The Saharan silver ant features longer legs than any of its peers that are also representative for an adaptation mechanism which keep their bodies as far away as possible from the heat-absorbing sand.
Heat shock proteins also allow the insects to hold up body temperatures as high as 128 degrees Fahrenheit. Nonetheless, the Saharan silver ant has to move swiftly and rapidly in the hottest hours of the day. One second beyond 10 minutes exposed to the top temperatures of the Saharan day means certain death for the insect.
Therefore, the Saharan silver ant is moving across distances with 70 times the length of their body per second.
Beyond these biological mechanism for fending off heat at the largest extent possible, the Saharan silver ant possesses one key feature: a coat of shimmering silver dense hairs disposed in triangular formations.
Nanfang Yu from the University of Columbia where the study was conducted put one of the ants under the electron microscope. It resulted that electromagnetic radiation at different wavelengths reacts with the silver hairs to regulate the body temperature of the silver ants.
A statement coming from Dr. Yu explains:
“There are two effects – first in the shorter wavelengths of the solar radiation spectrum, secondly in the longer wavelength range of the thermal radiative spectrum. In the solar spectrum, which is shorter wavelengths, the hairs scatter light very strongly.”
The triangular sections of the silver hairs present three flattened facets which aid the silver ant in fending off solar light through a process called internal reflection.
Absorption of solar radiation might be perceived as a counterproductive measure.
In fact, it helps the silver ant regulate its body temperature in concordance with the outside temperatures, but not to alarming levels, thanks to the silver hair coating its body.
Image Source: flickr.com