Meet the Fastest Ant in the World

Saharan desert ant moves at the equivalent of more than 400mph for humans
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 17, 2019 8:31 AM CDT
Meet the Fastest Ant in the World
The Saharan silver ant, in a screen grab from video made prior to the new study.   (YouTube)

National Geographic compares it to a "tiny, glinting missile." The Guardian notes that the rate of its stride is more than 10 times faster than that of the fastest human, Usain Bolt. The hubbub is in honor of the Saharan silver ant, which researchers have just discovered to be the fastest ant on the planet and one the fastest insects, period. The desert ants move 2.8 feet per second, roughly 108 times their own body length. If that were scaled up to human proportions, they'd move at more than 400mph. The reason is necessity: As their name suggests, the ants forage in the Sahara, and they do so in the hottest part of the day, when sand temperatures can hit 140 degrees Fahrenheit, notes CNN. As a result, they have to move fast—not only to get food before it decomposes but so they themselves don't get scorched.

"We knew these animals would be fast, but nobody knew how fast exactly and how they would achieve that speed," says Harald Wolf of the University of Ulm in Germany, whose team's findings from Tunisia will be published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The ants have relatively short legs—which helps keep them from sinking too deep into the hot sand—and they move them with remarkable coordination and speed. Generally, two sets of three legs work in unison with each other, but at higher speeds, all six legs were off the ground at the same time, prompting the researchers to use the word "gallop" in a news release. Down the road, closer study of how the ant zips along could help engineers develop faster, more agile robots. (Ants appear to have their own "war medics," too.)

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