A Moment of Science

Ants Out In the Rain

Why don't ants drown every time it rains? Find out on this Moment of Science.

Ever wonder why ants don’t drown every time it rains?

Well, ant species that burrow have different flood survival strategies. Nest design alone can go a long way. Some species make sure to build their nests in sandy or well-drained soil that absorbs moisture and dries quickly. Others build mounds with waterproof roofs.

One tropical species of ants has an alarm and evacuation plan for flooding. At the first sign of rain, minor worker ants start racing through the nest’s tunnels, mobilizing the entire nest is less than thirty seconds.

Odor trails then direct everyone down unobstructed tunnels to dry areas in the nest or–if necessary–to those exits that aren’t blocked by water.

Some species have flood plans that even top that. A species of fire ants in the southwest leave their nests and form a large mass around the queen and her brood, basically acting like a living raft that floats until the waters recede, or it gets anchored on grass or bushes.

Even though some die, enough survive–usually including the queen–so that once the waters go down, they can return to the nest or build a new one and go back to business as usual.

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