These ants use their butts to fly

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Some ants crawl to where they want to go. Not this species. They fly, using no wings or sails. They have all they need to fly packed right behind them at all times.

Cephalotes atratus is a species of ant that makes its nest up a tall tree. Since its food is elsewhere, it needs to make a long trek down a tree trunk, during which the ant is exposed to larger insects and birds. Some time back, one of these ants decided it had had enough of this vertical no man's land and decided to jump. Apparently it worked out, since now these ants jump and glide down from their trees in carefully steered descents. They do this despite having no wings, no sails, and no aerodynamic body shape. What they do have is a butt, and the will to use it.


They manage to get where they want to go using a skydiver's move. Many readers will have seen skydivers falling with their chests down and their arms outstretched behind them. This position, and the subtle shift of their arms and legs, allows skydivers to steer as they fall. The ant does the same thing, but in reverse. It spreads its back legs and and drops his butt down, using the precise position of its legs and butt to steer (albeit backwards) to its location.

Despite having to fly blind, the ants are very skillful when it comes to this kind of backwards flight. They steer towards white, vertical surfaces with surprising accuracy. Researchers think the ants aim for these targets because they need to hit other trees, and badly. If they aimed for the floor of the forest, they might end up in puddles or plopped into the mouths of hungry animals. These ants probably became gliders because they fell into a technique that was productive enough to compensate for the ants who went astray on puffs of wind and ended up gobbled up by waiting animals beneath the tree. Or the entire colony just runs on adrenaline.


Via Discovery.