Residents are in awe as floating islands of fire ants are among the survivors of Hurricane Sally as the category 2 storm hits Florida.
2020’s historic hurricane season continues to ravage the U.S. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has just issued a severe advisory for Sally. The category 2 storm now pushes winds in excess of 105 mph. The NHC warns of “Historic, life-threatening flooding is likely along portions of the northern Gulf Coast. Flash floods due to rainfall are likely throughout Wednesday.”
In addition to the Florida panhandle, NHC says inland portions of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia are in danger. The western Carolinas will also be hit this week.
According to WKRG photographer Jason Garcia, Sally is joining the ranks of past hurricanes to produce floating fire ants. He is capturing the phenomenon in Civitian Park in Pensacola, Florida as the storm rages. He saw an island of these venomous insects at Civitian Park in Pensacola, Florida.
How do fire ants float and not drown like other insects?
While most terrestrial insects perish in floods, fire ants are known to form these incredible feats. The Weather Channel states “the ants turn their bodies into rafts, with tiny hairs trapping a layer of air that protects those at the bottom of the raft from drowning. It said the ants can remain on these islands for weeks, so “beware near floodwaters.”
Alex Wild, an ant researcher, also reports on the phenomenon whenever it happens. His twitter account features remarkable photos of fire ants and their resilience:
This clip by Mike Hixenbaugh shows a closeup of the ants and their flotation system. Within, the ants continually move and change their technique:
If a storm hits too quickly, however, the ants will be unable to escape their underground homes. In these cases, like with the horrific flooding of Hurricane Katrina, no rafts of floating fire ants will be found.