You probably have seen ants carrying food particles in their mouth, but they are rarely seen with water drops, which raises questions about the transport mechanisms.
How Do Ants Transport Water? Ants transport water to nests by rolling down the drops on their exoskeleton, mixing with sand to make it wet, and using plant material to soak it. Moreover, they use feathers to absorb dew drops at night and absorb water through capillary action as they do not have lungs.
Water transportation is crucial for colony survival. They are highly dependent on moisture, even more than food, because they cannot live without it after a few days.
How do ants transport water without drowning?
It is challenging for ants to break the surface tension of water and drink through it because lower body weight makes it challenging to get through it. However, their lighter bodies can easily float over it.
Accordingly, they have to adopt different strategies for drinking water without drowning and transporting it to their nests.
Roll down drops on the exoskeleton
Ant bodies are covered by a hard exoskeleton that protects them from hot sun rays and drowning because it can help avoid moisture loss.
It is made of chitin which protects against attacks and water loss due to its repelling nature. Accordingly, it can help in the transportation process of water to their nests.
Moreover, it can hold water rolled down into a drop by these tiny insects using heads or antennae. They can transport a drop by mutual effort because they can hold it between the two heads.
It seems impressive to look at these tiny insects holding a drop on their heads or exoskeletons while taking it back to the nests from the source.
Mix water with sandy soil or clay
Ants cannot drink a lot of water and cannot store more quantity because they have to perform heavy-duty tasks requiring the loss of moisture.
Accordingly, they can store it in their bellies but devise another strategy to transport the maximum amount to their nests. These prefer to mix it into clay or sandy soil. They use this method to get water in the desert.
The clay-rich soil has the potential to hold moisture due to larger pore spaces that can retain moisture between the smaller particles for a long.
So, they make a small ball of clay soil and throw drops on its surface to make it wet. After that, these clay balls are carried back to the nest to use for hydration in the long term.
Ants use wings to collect dew drops
Another effective strategy for ants to benefit from dew drops is to use dropped wings and bird feathers to collect the dew drops at night.
The queens shed their wings on the ground after mating and are sometimes eaten for nutrition or remain there on the ground. So, the workers spread their wings close to their nests in the daytime.
The wings can retain dew drops on their surface in the night or early morning, which can be used to hydrate the bodies of colony members in the daytime.
They are not supposed to carry the drops of water on their wings from ponds to nests because alates are not foraging insects as they are only involved in reproduction.
Use plant material to soak water
Water transportation through absorption is a common strategy of ants as they use different plant materials with good absorption capacity to carry water.
They use plant leaves to soak and collect the drops to help overcome the loss during movement as their bodies release moisture through evapotranspiration.
In addition, the plant roots can also provide moisture content when they soak it into the water. Therefore, these roots or leaves can be quickly returned to the mound to hydrate colony members.
Absorb by capillary action
Ants do not possess organs like lungs found in higher organisms and are involved in water uptake in the bodies and their storage.
These insects absorb moisture through capillary action when the moisture drops move upward due to the porosity or adhesion properties.
Water has an excellent capillary action and quickly moves upward in the bodies, which cannot forcefully suck the liquid particles. So, ants rely on the mechanism of capillary action for its uptake.
How do ants store water in the body?
Ants can predict future rains and drought conditions by assessing the weather changes. They have to plan for food and water storage before the conditions become unfavorable.
These have different mechanisms of storing it as their bodies can ideally become reservoirs of food and fluids that can be used for some days.
Moreover, they usually get moisture from foods because fruits, vegetables, and insect bodies contain juices and hemolymphs.
These liquid material reaches their bellies and get stored in the crop, which serves as a temporary food storage space that can be utilized slowly over time.
The swelling of the abdomen confirms that these insects are living reservoirs of food and moisture. It becomes flat over time when they transfer fluids down to the colony.
In addition, these juices are released from crops to their bodies by regurgitation when the workers have to feed their colony members and transport fluids to hydrate larvae and queens.
Furthermore, they can also store water externally by creating a chamber inside the mound or making the soil wet to keep the areas moist where they can live.
Where do ants get water from?
Ants have varying food preferences, but they need moisture to keep their bodies hydrated to avoid the drying of exoskeleton and death.
Most commonly, these insects seek ponds, bowls in pet cages, bird baths, and puddles to overcome their thirst and avoid dehydration risks.
The rainwater can also become their source of moisture when the colony members drink enough water to soak their bodies well for a long.
However, some herbivorous species, like leafcutter and pharaoh ants, choose plant materials for nutrition and hydration. They consume plant sap and floral nectar rich in water and sugar.
The aphids can also provide honeydew or liquid secretions that attract ants due to their sweetness and liquid nature. Carnivorous species seek moisture from the insect’s body or drink hemolymph.
They can also collect dew drops falling in the early morning and hydrate their bodies.
Furthermore, the common house ants can reach indoors for moisture and carry drops from the bathroom and kitchen, as sinks, floors, bathtub faucets, and shower drains can provide moisture.
Why do ants transport water?
They have to transport water to avoid dehydration during drought conditions when they cannot find any source of moisture in their surroundings.
They have to take care of the larvae and queen ants because they depend on the food and moisture the workers provide.
Any problems in moisture availability can put the ants’ colony’s survival at risk of death because their bodies will dry up and desiccate over time.
In addition, they have to transport water during flooding when all the colony members drink and pee to avoid drowning, which is communal peeing.
Furthermore, ants can store excessive water in their mounds by transporting drops inside the chambers that can be used during unfavorable conditions.