Terminal velocity is the constant speed a free-falling body attains when the gravitational force and the air resistance or drag force acting on it become equal.
Can Ants Survive Terminal Velocity? Ants can survive terminal velocity because their size is small, low terminal speed, sturdy body skeleton, air resistance balances their body weight, and dissipate much less kinetic energy after hitting the ground. Moreover, they have strong immunity and do not feel pain, their wings allow for a safe fall, and they thrust their legs during the fall, which reduces their speed.
Gravity acts on the ants to attract them toward the ground, and the drag force acts in the opposite direction to this gravitational force. This causes the ants to attain a constant speed of moving down and hitting the ground without getting hurt.
How can ants survive terminal velocity?
Ants can tolerate terminal velocity because of different reasons, and some of those reasons are explained here.
Small mass and low terminal speed
It depends on the size, shape, and body mass, such as a body attains terminal speed faster if it has a small size and mass.
According to general rules of physics, the smaller bodies reach a constant speed when falling from high buildings because air resists its motion which is directly proportional to square of the speed.
Heavy bodies have high velocity, and it takes longer for a heavy-weight body to reach this constant speed. Therefore, humans cannot survive falling from heights with high terminal speeds.
Ants are small insects, which causes them to reach a constant speed soon. In addition, their terminal velocity is low because of their small mass and size, which makes them survive the fall and this speed.
Sturdy body skeleton
Some insects have an exoskeleton, such as they have bones outside the body and a sturdy body frame. This saves the insects from falling and getting hurt or dead.
Ants have an exoskeleton, a rigid and protective covering outside the body, which causes them to survive the terminal velocity.
This sturdy body skeleton makes them attain the constant falling speed soon, and they do not die after landing on the ground.
They shed their exoskeleton in different growing stages to develop a new stiffer protective covering to survive various challenging situations.
Air resistance balances their weight
Air resistance is the force exerted on the body by the air, and weight is the downward force exerted on the body due to gravity, which tries to attract everything towards itself.
Ants have little mass of approximately 1-5 mg, depending on the specie, which causes a little air resistance and gravitational force.
It reaches the point where the downward force balances with the upward drag force and attains the speed known as the terminal velocity.
The air resistance balances the weight with which the insects move downward, causing them to lower the speed and make them survive this speed without any damage.
This is because the opposite and equal forces acting on them become equal and cancel the total force acting on the insect.
Dissipate much less kinetic energy hitting the ground
The potential energy of a free-falling body converts into kinetic, sound, heat, and other forms of energy when it hits the ground.
The kinetic and potential energy is proportional to the mass of the free-falling body, such as the larger the body mass, the higher the kinetic and potential energy. However, the kinetic energy also depends on the speed with which the body is moving downward.
Ants have a small structure, which causes them to dissipate much lower kinetic energy when they land on the ground and survive the terminal speed.
They absorb only 1/26th million times energy compared to a man, which causes them to remain unaffected after hitting the ground.
Ants are immune to trauma and pain
Humans have feelings and emotions and become traumatized if they experience sudden accidents, such as falling from a high building.
However, ants have strong immune systems and do not feel pain if they face a sudden and stressful situation. Therefore, they survive the worse conditions by making a team and protecting each other.
Therefore, they can survive if they fall from high places and land safely on the ground. However, they can get minor injuries but suffer the damages without dying.
Their wings allow for the safe fall
Some ants have wings like the gliding ants found in forest canopies. They can fly and glide if they fall from high trees because they usually make their nests on top of the trees.
Not all ants have wings, but approximately 7-8 percent of this specie has wings to fly in order to change their nest and colonies.
They spread their wings when falling from high places, which causes to reduce the terminal velocity and air resistance for safe fall.
The wings act as parachutes to reduce air resistance and the constant speed with which they move toward the ground for a safe landing. They use their feet as rudders, which makes them survive the fall and terminal speed.
Thrust their legs to fall slowly
All ants have six legs attached to their thorax, in the middle of their body. They thrust their legs to raise the cross-section area of their body, which causes them to fall safely.
The larger cross-section area causes the terminal speed to decrease, and the free-falling body slows down its constant speed of fall.
The cross-sectional area is inversely proportional to the terminal velocity, such as the bodies with the more cross-sectional area having a low constant speed during free-fall.
How much time do ants take to reach terminal velocity?
Ants experience a low terminal speed of 6.4 km/h or 3.97 mph, which is extremely low compared to the speed experienced by humans.
They fall without much impact on the ground and do not experience any fatal results because of their small size and shape.
They reach the terminal velocity within two to three seconds because they have extremely low mass and will move at this speed until they hit the ground.
The average terminal velocity for most small insects is 2 meters per second, while the average constant speed for humans is 50 meters per second.
Different factors, like mass, weight, air resistance, shape, and size of the falling bodies, affect the time taken to reach the constant speed and the value of this speed.
Can ants die from terminal velocity?
Ants do not die from terminal velocity because they have extremely small sizes and have no impact on hitting the ground. Therefore, they can survive this constant speed in normal conditions, such the temperature, air pressure, and gravity.
However, they can die if you change certain conditions during their free-fall, such as they cannot survive too high and cold atmospheric temperatures.
They cannot survive it if the air resistance becomes too low or zero, which causes the gravitational force to increase.
They experience great impact falling on the ground with high constant speed because the air resistance is absent and gravitational force is the only force acting on them.
There is no upward drag force that acts to balance the weight, and the body falls without achieving terminal speed under the action of gravity.
However, it is an ideal condition to have zero air resistance because many gases and elements are present in the air.
There is no concept of terminal velocity if the air resistance is zero. Air resistance has a zero value only in vacuum or space.