Did you know the Saharan silver ant is one of the fastest animals on Earth? It also has some of the most fascinating adaptations to extreme heat. As it turns out, these two capabilities are intricately connected.
As the name suggests, the Saharan silver ant lives in the Sahara Desert of northern Africa. The Sahara Desert is hot. How hot? As the hottest desert in the world, the Sahara can get up to 136º F (58º C). Typical daytime temperatures are around 117º F (47º C). As you can imagine, the sand gets even hotter.
So, it makes sense that silver ants would spend as little time out in the daytime heat as possible and as little time touching the hot sand as possible. They could just leave their burrows at night or in the cool morning to gather food, like many other desert animals do. But that's when countless ant-eating lizards are on the prowl. So, silver ants wait until it's so hot that even the ant-eating lizards can't stand it, and the lizards retreat below ground. BUT... when the temperature reaches the lethal level for the lizards, there is only about ten more minutes before it reaches the lethal level for the ants.
Therefore, the ants only have about ten minutes each day to leave their burrows to scavenge for insects and other animals that have died from the heat. TEN MINUTES per day!
This leads us to why the ants are so fast. They need to really boogie to find dead animals and drag them back into their burrows within ten minutes. So, they lift their front pair of legs off the ground and run at blistering speeds on only four legs. Quadrupedal ants... that's weird. But it reduces the ants' contact with the hot sand.
How fast can they run? Up to 108 times their own body length per second. Using this standard, only two other animals are faster, the Australian tiger beetle (171 body lengths per second) and the California coastal mite (377 body lengths). What about the cheetah? Sorry, cheetahs can only run 16 body lengths per second. Consider this: If I could run as fast as a silver ant (108 lengths of my body per second), my sprinting speed would be 368 miles per hour (592 km/hr).
- Saharan silver ant - DepositPhotos
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