Professor Says ‘Ants Are Like No Living Thing on Earth’

Categories: Nature


Ants can thrive and live with almost no rival in the natural world. The ability to survive rain, drought, heat, cold is uncanny and amazing. We all want them out of our kitchen and our home and yet we still admire their strength, their team work and their never ending pursuit to keep the colony alive. 

Ants can behave like liquids and solids nearly at the same time — at least, according to Georgia Tech Associate Professor David Hu.

“Ants are like no living thing on Earth,” Hu said. “They can both be a solid and a liquid and bounce back and forth between those two states at the same time.”


The professor is featured in a new video providing a visual explanation of new research from the George Institute of Technology which examined the behavioral properties of fire ants. Researchers concluded that the ants have traits of both states of matter.

“The ants exhibit a springy-response when probed at short times, but behave fluid-like at longer times,” said Alberto Fernandez-Nieves, an associate physics professor at GIT.

Hu demonstrates this by showing the viewer a couple examples. In the first, ants are placed over water and “form a raft” or solid structure “that allows the ants to survive.” In another example, Hu shows how the ants behave like liquid by dropping a coin on a wall of the insects. The ants move out of the way before reforming after the coin has passed through.


“This is self repair. No other objects do this,” he said. “Why does this matter? Imagine I have a glass window and I throw a brick through it. Instead of having shards of window glass, imagine if the window were made of ants or other active material. The glass shards would reform, self-heal, allow the brick to pass and then form a complete new window at the end of this process. This is the dream of active matter.”


In a press release, Hu compared this to technology famously seen in the “Terminator” movies.

“If you cut through a pile of ants, they’ll simply let the knife go through, then reform on the other side. They’re like liquid metal – just like that scene in the Terminator movie,” he said.

Hu’s study, “Mechanics of Ant Aggregations,” was published in Nature Materials late last month.

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