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17 October 2019 01:50

Sahara Desert Sahara

World's fastest ant revealed as Saharan insect more nimble than a Cheetah

Silver ants travel 108 times their body length per second and have stride rate 10 times that of Usain Bolt The sand dunes of the northern Sahara are home to the fastest ants in the world, according to researchers who clocked the insects foraging for food in the blistering midday sun. Video footage reveals the ants galloping across the scorching sand at speeds approaching one metre per second, the equivalent of a house cat tearing about at 120mph. At full pelt, the insects travelled 108 times their body length per second, the researchers found. "They fly through the air with no feet on the ground from stride to stride," even at relatively slow speeds, said Sarah Pfeffer, who studies animal behaviour at Ulm University in Germany. Having traced some ants back to their nest, the researchers laid an aluminium channel along the ground and placed mealworms or shortbread crumbs at the far end.

Once slowed down, the footage shows the ants coordinating their movements with incredible precision, moving three legs – which work together as a tripod – at a time. Running flat out, the ants covered 85.5cm per second in 47 strides, more than 10 times Usain Bolt's stride rate. Similar footage of another fast desert ant, Cataglyphis fortis, which is found in the Tunisian salt pans, recorded the insects hitting a top speed of 62cm per second. While the Saharan silver ants have shorter legs than their salt pan cousins, the furious stride rate more than compensates, the scientists found. The world's fastest ant has been discovered, a desert-living creature which "gallops" over the scorching sand faster, relative to its body size, than a cheetah.

The Saharan silver ant hits speeds approaching one metre per second as it emerges at the height of the midday heat to scavenge on corpses, scientists have found. Their readings revealed the ant can move at 108 times its own body length per second, putting the species among the world's most nimble animals. A cheetah, the fastest land animal with a top speed of around 30 metres per second, covers a mere 23 times its own body length per second. The scientists at the University of Ulm said the Saharan silver ant's speed is particularly remarkable given it has relatively short legs, between 4.3 and 6.8mm. The limbs move back and forth dizzyingly quickly, however, swinging 1,300 mm per second, with all six feet off the ground most of the time, in a movement similar to a horse's gallop.

The researchers located a nest and connected an aluminium channel to the entrance, placing a feeder at the end to lure the ants out. "After the ants have found the food - they love mealworms - they shuttle back and forth in the channel and we mounted our camera to film them from the top," said Dr Sarah Pfeffer. Among the small handful of creatures with a faster relative speed than the Saharan silver ant is the Australian tiger beetles -171body lengths per second - and California coastal mites - 377body lengths per second. The Saharan silver can cover almost a yard in a second — 108 times its body length and the equivalent of a human running 360mph. 2 Scientists have found that thee Saharan silver ant can cover almost a yard in a second — the same as a human running 360mph It records its blistering speeds over sand as hot as 60C (140F) by taking up to 47 strides a second.

German researchers who studied them in dunes in Tunisia said the Saharan silver's muscle contraction speed may be "close to physiological limits". Team leader Prof Harald Wolf, of the University of Ulm, said: "Even among desert ants, the silver ants are special." But the ant, known scientifically as Cataglyphis bombycina, is a slow coach compared to the California coastal mite — which can run at 377 body lengths a second. The diurnal silver ant, Cataglyphis bombycina, has made impressive adaptations to the extreme temperatures of midday Saharan sands to feast on less resilient prey that other predators have left in favour of retreating to shady refuges. The hardy desert dwellers, which can reach blistering speeds on 60 degree Celcius sands in their quest for lunch, had long fascinated Harald Wolf from Ulm University in Germany. The insects have evolved several adaptive features typical of the Cataglyphis genus, including an intermittent ventilation cycle to limit respiratory water loss, synthesis of proteins that help them reach critical maximum body temperatures and honed navigation skills to escape the heat quickly.

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Cataglyphis fortis from salt pan habitats, the Saharan ants were able to move faster over their hot, granular sand dune habitat. bombycina reach world record speeds of 855 millimetres per second – 108 times their body length compared to 50 body lengths achieved by C. They discovered, as reported in thethatreach world record speeds of 855 millimetres per second – 108 times their body length compared to 50 body lengths achieved by This approaches the speed of top record-breaking creatures: Australian tiger beetles and California coastal mites with relative speeds up to 171 and 377 body lengths per second, respectively. But once the team located a nest, they simply connected an aluminium channel to the entrance and lured the ants out with mealworms. "After the ants have found the food," says Pfeffer, "they shuttle back and forth in the channel and we mounted our camera to film them from the top." Close analysis of the silver ants' movements revealed they were swinging their 4.3 to 6.8 millimetre long legs at speeds of up to 1,300 millimetres per second, taking up to 47 strides per second – about a third faster than their larger cousins. Also incredible was their stride length, which quadrupled from 4.7 to 20.8 millimetres as the ants sped up, during which time they switched to a gallop with all six feet off the ground at once. The ants displayed near-perfect synchrony in their footwork, coordinating the movements of each pair of three legs – working together to form tripods – which only touched the ground for as little as 7 milliseconds before initiating the next stride. Pfeffer says she is intrigued by the muscle physiology and biomechanics the ants use to reach these high walking speeds, "which must require muscle contraction speeds close to physiological limits known so far". The fastest ant in the world can run 108 times the length of its own body every second. The tiny creature runs faster in proportion to its own body than a cheetah and manages about 12 strides for every one that Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt does in a second. The Saharan silver's muscle contraction speed may be 'close to physiological limits', they say. It reaches a record speed of 33.7 inches (855 millimetres) a second by swinging its six tiny legs incredibly quickly. Lead author Professor Harald Wolf, an arthropod expert at the University of Ulm, said: 'Even among desert ants, the silver ants are special.' Footage of a Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina) running highlighting when the legs are in contact with the ground and when they are swinging Dr Pfeffer said: 'After the ants have found the food - they love mealworms - they shuttle back and forth in the channel and we mounted our camera to film them from the top.' Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina) workers in the desert at Douz, Tunisia In contrast, their larger cousin known as Cataglyphis fortis, which also lives in the Sahara, only gets up to 620 millimetres a second - or 50 body lengths. It makes the Saharan silver, known scientifically as Cataglyphis bombycina, the world's fastest ant. It also places it close to the top of the list of world record breaking creatures - alongside the Australian tiger beetle's and California coastal mite's 171 and 377 body lengths a second, respectively. The study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology also compared the leg length of the Sahara silver and Cataglyphis fortis - and found the former is truly extraordinary.