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Footage of a Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina) running, at 44x slow motion.

A Saharan silver ant’s pace seems leisurely — but only because the footage has been slowed by a factor of 44. Credit: Sarah Pfeffer

Animal behaviour

A land-speed record for ants set in Saharan dunes

World’s fastest ants zip along at 85 centimetres per second, at times with all 6 legs off the ground at once.

Saharan silver ants have to be fast: they routinely sprint across burning desert sands in the midday heat to search for food. But now Sarah Pfeffer at Ulm University in Germany and her colleagues have shown that these tiny insects (Cataglyphis bombycina) are the fastest ants alive, attaining blistering speeds of 0.855 metres — 108 times their body length — in one second.

Video of the speedsters shows that despite having relatively short legs for desert ants, the Saharan silvers swing their legs an astonishing 47 strides a second in a smooth ‘galloping’ pattern that means the ants get all six legs off the ground at once. Precise coordination allows three legs to hit the ground nearly simultaneously, forming a stable tripod as the ant moves. Researchers suspect this stance help to prevent the ants from sinking into the dunes.

Thanks to this fancy footwork, the ants can hotfoot it across the shifting dunes — which reach temperatures of 60 ˚C at the surface — to scavenge the carcasses of less hardy insects.

More Research Highlights...

Light micrograph of a human egg cell during fertilisation

As a human egg cell is fertilized, two chromosome-containing cellular structures (dotted circles, centre) merge into one — a process that often goes wrong. Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

Developmental biology

The error-prone step at the heart of making an embryo

High-resolution imaging shows why the union between two sets of chromosomes goes awry as least as often as not.
Satellite image of broken iceberg B-44.

Dark water borders chunks of iceberg broken off a West Antarctica glacier. The melting of the region’s ice sheet could allow the bedrock to rise, sloughing water into the ocean. Credit: NASA

Climate change

Antarctic rocks on the rebound could raise sea level much more than expected

When the ice covering the west of the continent disappears, the bedrock could rise up and shove extra water into the ocean.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Costa Rica

Mist wafts through the trees at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve in Costa Rica. Cloud forests around the world are threatened by development, wood collection and climate change. Credit: Stefano Paterna/Alamy

Conservation biology

Forests that float in the clouds are drifting away

Tropical cloud forests are safe havens for a vast range of creatures and plants, but they are under siege around the globe.
Illustration of a brown dwarf

A rapidly spinning brown dwarf (pictured, artist’s impression) tends to have narrow atmospheric bands; the faster the spin, the thinner the bands. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomy and astrophysics

Dim stars that have failed at fusion are masters of spin

Three brown dwarfs whirl on their axes at a dizzying rate that might be close to the celestial speed limit for these bodies.
Aerial photograph of beef cattle standing at the Texana Feeders feedlot in Floresville, Texas

Large-scale facilities such as this feedlot in Floresville, Texas, help to meet the global appetite for beef and other red meat, which remains strong despite the growing consumption of chicken and fish. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty


Meat lovers worldwide pay climate little heed

People are eating more poultry and fish — but they’re not giving up their hamburgers.
Midshipmen at dining table eat in formation, CIRCA 1900

Midshipmen in the United States in around 1900. A study found that body-mass index, a gauge of obesity, has increased with the generations during the twentieth century. Credit: Buyenlarge/Getty


A century of US data documents obesity’s racially skewed rise

An analysis also finds that obesity is common at a much younger age among people born in the early 1980s than those born in the late 1950s.
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