July 21, 2011
Scientists have finally come up with something good to say about fire ants.
If you’ve ever been stung by even one fire ant, you probably feel that the only good fire ant is a dead one.
However, scientists have found that a group of fire ants can connect like an interlocking puzzle and trap air bubbles, forming a living raft in water. They use it to save eggs, young ants and provisions during flash floods in Brazil.
Having been bitten by my share of fire ants, I still feel that a world without fire ants would be a swell place.
But the scientists think that this example of fire-ant cooperation could provide a useful model for building robots that can perform complex tasks quickly and cooperatively.
It’s like I always say—even annoying things can be useful. (OK, I used to say it about a co-worker we all hated. My exact words were, “Even bread mold has its uses.”)
We never did figure out a use for the co-worker; but the fire ants may actually redeem themselves.