The bi-athletic ant
Sitting on the bank of the Proserpine River in Queensland, Australia I noticed a medium sized ant voluntarily take to the water. Riding the surface tension it navigated around a small branch and back onto the mud. This really is something when you consider an old trick to deter ants from getting to something sweet like honey is to sit it inside a ‘moat’ of water as ants are usually keen to avoid getting wet.
Could this be a bi-athletic ant?
Not long after I noticed the ant and several others I was browsing the web and found that this species had been independently discovered by an SBS film crew. They were filming in the mangroves near Townsville and caught an ant they wanted to film. Putting it on a dry rock in the middle of a puddle, they prepared their equipment, and to their amazement, the ant paced out the little island it was on- and simply stepped into the water and swam to the edge and walked away. They repeated the experiment for the same results. The ant was named Polyrachis sokolova.
Now a little more interested in the ant, I tried the same thing.
The ant walked to the side of the rock, sank slightly and then began swimming under water. Its legs were whizzing around like tiny windmills. With further experiments, the ant would flick upwards like a shrimp if it sank too far.
The species name of the bi-athletic ant sokolova seems to be named after a Russian bi-athlete of the same name. Quite fitting, really.
This ant lives in holes in the mud under the high tide mark. As it lives here, it faces no competition from any other ant, and has this wonderful adaptation to survive in such a harsh environment, where for many days of the month the burrow entrance will be totally flooded.