Tag: evolution of flight

The Weird Wingless Ant That Glides About Backwards, Leading With Its Rump

By Douglas Main | December 13, 2011 10:19 am

3D rendering of C. atratus guiding itself with its legs as it falls… backward.

Ants do well in rain forest canopies. Edward O. Wilson once catalogued 43 species of ants in a single Peruvian tree, which is “about equal to the entire ant fauna of the British isles.” But what if they fall? Ending up on the ground—far removed in distance and ecosystem niche—could be fatal. So hundreds of species of canopy-dwelling ants evolved the ability to direct their fall in a number of impressive ways, as a post in The Why Files explains. For example, the gliding ant Cephalotes atratus can:

  • Fly backwards, even though backward movement is rare among animals (house cats and hummingbirds being among the exceptions)
  • Control their position with their hind legs, flipping backwards at first, then rotating in the last 3 to 5 milliseconds to smoothly land on its legs, its head pointed down
  • Descend at about 75°, which looks like a controlled crash, but is sufficient to return the ants to the home tree
  • Exceed the expectations of an ant-size nervous system by performing these presto-chango mental manipulations

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