Save the Queen on a Raft Made of Corpses


The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault Wikimedia Commons

Imagine a monarchy threatened amid rising flood waters. For her loyal guards, there's nothing left to do but lash a bunch of bodies together and allow her majesty to float free on a raft of bloated child cadavers and gasping, half-drowned guardsmen.

It might be the stuff of nightmare to us humans (Or fantasy. No judgments). But for ants, it's just how they ride out flood waters.

As you can see in the image to our right, ants bind together into a raft when cataclysmic floods threaten the colony. This alone isn't anything new, but a fresh study from Jessica Purcell of the University of Lausanne takes a closer look at the raft's physical and social structure.

That the queen occupies the center of the raft doesn't come as a surprise. She's the true VIP (VIA?) here, so she deserves a highly-protected spot. Tangled worker ants make-up the outside of the raft and, shockingly, the larval ant brood made up the lowest portions of the make-shift craft.

Lausanne found that since the brood are the most buoyant members of the colony, they actually survived exceedingly well. Their survival rate was on par with the rest of the "crew." When brood items were not available, worker ants formed the bottom of the raft. They proved resistant to drowning as well, but required extended recovery time upon landing.

But as long as the queen is safe, all is good.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.