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Title: Treadmilling and dynamic protrusions in fire ant rafts
Fire ants ( Solenopsis invicta ) are exemplary for their formation of cohered, buoyant and dynamic structures composed entirely of their own bodies when exposed to flooded environments. Here, we observe tether-like protrusions that emerge from aggregated fire ant rafts when docked to stationary, vertical rods. Ant rafts comprise a floating, structural network of interconnected ants on which a layer of freely active ants walk. We show here that sustained shape evolution is permitted by the competing mechanisms of perpetual raft contraction aided by the transition of bulk structural ants to the free active layer and outward raft expansion owing to the deposition of free ants into the structural network at the edges, culminating in global treadmilling. Furthermore, we see that protrusions emerge as a result of asymmetries in the edge deposition rate of free ants. Employing both experimental characterization and a model for self-propelled particles in strong confinement, we interpret that these asymmetries are likely to occur stochastically owing to wall accumulation effects and directional motion of active ants when strongly confined by the protrusions' relatively narrow boundaries. Together, these effects may realize the cooperative, yet spontaneous formation of protrusions that fire ants sometimes use for functional exploration and more » to escape flooded environments. « less
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Journal of The Royal Society Interface
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National Science Foundation
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