The strikingly beautiful Saharan silver ant is capable of withstanding some of the most extreme temperatures on the planet. New research shows that their silver sheen serves as a heat-repellent system, reflecting incoming sunlight like a prism.
Scientists call it “total internal reflection,” and it’s what gives these ants their unique appearance. The ants have glittery hairs that feature a triangular cross section—much like a prism—with a pair of grooved surfaces that divert incoming visible and near-infrared light. This enables the desert ant to maintain a lower body temperature, allowing it to cope with temperatures that exceed 122 degrees F (50 degrees C). So the ants can forage during the day, a time when other animals, including some of their predators, would rather avoid the heat.
A research team from the Free University of Brussels studied these hairs under an electron microscope to trace the path of incoming light rays. They also compared normal “hairy” silver ants with a sample of silver ants that had their hairs removed (the researchers used a tiny scalpel to shave the ants, which must’ve been incredibly tedious).
Desert ants keep their cool, according to Science Shots and Science doi: 10.1126/science.aab3564, 18 June 2015. Saharan silver ants can live in desert regions where the temperature of the sand can reach 70°C (158°F). However, to survive, the ants must keep their own body temperature below 53.6°C (125.5°F).
The ants are able to do this because they have dense covering of uniquely shaped triangular hairs on their backs and sides that reflect most of the light that impinges on them. These also convert any light that is absorbed into longer wavelengths that are radiated away from the ant’s surface. The ants’ undersides also have a smooth silvery surface that reflects heat coming up from the ground.
According to Science Shots “Saharan silver ants give new meaning to survival of the fittest”.
Editorial Comment: This truly is a spectacular example of survival of the fittest, but please don’t use it as an example of evolution. These ants could only survive these incredibly harsh conditions if they already had the silvery light reflective hairs and undersurface. There would be no time for a black hairless ant to evolve these features if it found itself in the Sahara desert.
But before any intelligent design proponents start claiming how well designed these ants are for living in deserts we would remind them that in the beginning the whole world was “very good”, and deserts with 70°C sand are not very good, and do not date back to the beginning. It was not until after Noah’s flood that extreme environments developed, and living things had to survive with whatever features they already had. Any that couldn’t cope in an extreme environment, such as a desert, died out, leaving only those that could survive due to pre-existent abilities. This is natural selection at work, but natural selection occurs only as a result of the degeneration of the world, and can only eliminate the unfit. It is not a creative process that can build a world of living things from nothing, or even from other living things, such as non-silvery ants, even when you throw mutations into the mix!
So, why would ants have such a reflective surface if there were no hot deserts? Just because it can survive in the desert doesn’t mean it can’t survive elsewhere. The reflective surface is good for thermoregulation, which is a process needed to live in the very good world. In the post-Flood degenerate world these ants can live in the desert because there is no competition from other ants that use different methods of thermoregulation. We recommend they be put into competition with non-reflective ants to see who wins in a normal environment, and we predict that some other factor such as competition for food, including the others eating them will soon show. (Ref. insects, arthropods, thermoregulation)