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Proc Biol Sci. 2010 Jul 22;277(1691):2199-204. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0170. Epub 2010 Mar 17.

Aerial manoeuvrability in wingless gliding ants (Cephalotes atratus).

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, AR 72204, USA.


In contrast to the patagial membranes of gliding vertebrates, the aerodynamic surfaces used by falling wingless ants to direct their aerial descent are unknown. We conducted ablation experiments to assess the relative contributions of the hindlegs, midlegs and gaster to gliding success in workers of the Neotropical arboreal ant Cephalotes atratus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Removal of hindlegs significantly reduced the success rate of directed aerial descent as well as the glide index for successful flights. Removal of the gaster alone did not significantly alter performance relative to controls. Equilibrium glide angles during successful targeting to vertical columns were statistically equivalent between control ants and ants with either the gaster or the hindlegs removed. High-speed video recordings suggested possible use of bilaterally asymmetric motions of the hindlegs to effect body rotations about the vertical axis during targeting manoeuvre. Overall, the control of gliding flight was remarkably robust to dramatic anatomical perturbations, suggesting effective control mechanisms in the face of adverse initial conditions (e.g. falling upside down), variable targeting decisions and turbulent wind gusts during flight.

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