Ants have Sampson-like strength

  • An ant harvests nectar from a dandelion.

    An ant harvests nectar from a dandelion. Daily Herald file Photo

Updated 6/27/2018 9:54 AM

"Why are ants so strong?," asked a young patron who attended the Vernon Area Library Write Away program.

Creeping single file in and around our houses, ants are minuscule, yet form a mighty role in the food chain. These tiny black or brown segmented insects can perform astounding feats.


While ant species number well above 8,000 throughout the world, in Illinois there are just four -- the pavement ant, the small honey ant, the odorous ant and the carpenter ant.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about these tiny creatures is their strength. Did you ever see a train of ants following in line, carting small bits of soil or even bites of food particles?

Ants not only can carry loads many times their weight, they maneuver as a team to haul food back to the nest.

"Ants are able to lift approximately 10 to 50 times their own weight," said Tim Davis, PhD., agriculture and natural resources agent and county extension coordinator with the University of Georgia Extension.

Their strength comes from several factors, he said.

"First and foremost is the fact that they are small and they have a very high surface-to-body weight ratio. This combined with an exoskeleton gives them certain physical advantages over large soft-bodied animals such as humans."

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Their Sampson-like strength is impressive, the equivalent of a 200-pound man lifting between 2,000 and 10,000 pounds.

Davis said an ant's neck is where it really can pull its weight.

"According to one study, their neck joints can withstand as much as 5,000 times their body weight," he said.

But there is one critter that's even stronger; Davis asserts the dung beetle can haul 1,500 times its weight.

Ants help till the soil, spread certain types of flower seeds, and they prey on destructive termites. Ants have an unusual symbiotic relationship in which they protect aphids.

But once they enter our houses, their benefits are quickly forgotten. A nearly impossible task is trying to get rid of ants. Targeting a few here and there won't begin to address the hordes that live in a single nest -- up to 100,000. Experts estimate the number of ants in nests around the globe is one quadrillion.

The best defense against ants, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, is plugging holes in foundations where ants might enter in their never-ending quest to do the heavy lifting for fellow colony members.

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