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Commun Integr Biol. 2012 Nov 1;5(6):590-7. doi: 10.4161/cib.21421.

Dynamics and shape of large fire ant rafts.

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1
School of Mechanical Engineering; Georgia Institute of Technology; Atlanta, GA USA.

Abstract

To survive floods, fire ants link their bodies together to build waterproof rafts. Such rafts can be quite large, exceeding 100,000 individuals in size. In this study, we make two improvements on a previously reported model on the construction rate of rafts numbering between 3,000 and 10,000 individuals. That model was based upon experimental observations of randomly-directed linear ant trajectories atop the raft. Here, we report anomalous behavior of ants atop larger rafts of up to 23,000 ants. As rafts increase in size, the behavior of ants approaches diffusion, which is in closer alignment with other studies on the foraging and scouting patterns of ants. We incorporate this ant behavior into the model. Our modified model predicts more accurately the growth of large rafts. Our previous model also relied on an assumption of raft circularity. We show that this assumption is not necessary for large rafts, because it follows from the random directionality of the ant trajectories. Our predicted relationship between raft size and circularity closely fits experimental data.

KEYWORDS:

Brownian motion; cooperative; emergent; model; simulation; social insects; swarm

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