Ants are hard-working creatures known for their resourcefulness, ability to lift up to 100 times their own body weight, and skill at working together. With everything ants can do, can they also swim? Keep reading to discover the answer to this question and learn some more interesting facts about ants and water.
Although ants are amazing foragers, most species can’t swim. However, an ant’s body tends to repel water, so they can float on top of water. While their legs aren’t properly suited for the type of forward motion we might picture from a dog swimming in water, they will try to use their legs to clumsily kick themselves around.
While ants can’t swim, they are inventive creatures. If floodwaters take over their land, fire ants can join their legs together to create a raft. When the ants band together like this, they become even more buoyant. If the fire ant raft gets submerged underwater, it can quickly pop back up to the surface. As a result, these ants can float for as long as necessary until they find dry land to build a new home.
The one exception to ants not being able to swim is the Camponotus schmitzi, also called the diving ant. These are a species of carpenter ants native to Borneo, and they get their name due to their habit of diving into the digestive fluids of their host plant to grab insects that have fallen into the pitfall trap.
Scientists have studied the diving ant to try to learn how it differs from other ants in its ability to swim. They believe that changes in the chemistry of the ant’s body allow it to break through the surface of the liquid when other ants would float. Additionally, these ants seem to use their legs under the liquid the same way they would use them to run on land, suggesting this adaptation is rather recent.
Another advantage that ants have over other creatures when they’re in the water is that they don’t have lungs. Since they’re so small, they simply don’t have room in their bodies for a set of lungs and a complex respiratory system like larger mammals. Instead, ants breathe through a series of holes on the sides of their bodies called spiracles.
The spiracles connect to each other through a network of tubes in the ant’s body, and this helps distribute oxygen to almost every cell in their body. When they move, oxygen circulates through the tubes and carbon dioxide exits out the same tubes. Ants can also close the holes to these tubes to keep water from coming in. As a result, if an ant can dry off and get oxygen moving through the holes again, it won’t drown.
Although most ants can’t swim, they’re efficient creatures that still know how to survive if they end up in water. They also have some amazing adaptations to help them remain alive.