Mechanics of Fire Ant Aggregations

Condensed Matter journal club

Mechanics of Fire Ant Aggregations

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Fire ants link their bodies to form aggregations; these can adopt a variety of structures, they can drip and spread, or withstand applied loads. Here, by using oscillatory rheology, we show that fire ant aggregations are viscoelastic. We find that, at the lowest ant densities probed and in the linear regime, the elastic and viscous moduli are essentially identical over the spanned frequency range, which highlights the absence of a dominant mode of structural relaxation. As ant density increases, the elastic modulus rises, which we interpret by alluding to ant crowding and subsequent jamming. When deformed beyond the linear regime, the aggregation flows, exhibiting shear-thinning behaviour with a stress load that is comparable to the maximum load the aggregation can withstand before individual ants are torn apart. Our findings illustrate the rich, collective mechanical behaviour that can arise in aggregations of active, interacting building blocks.

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