Ever Hear About the Unique Ant That Thrives in the Sahara Desert?

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Very few species thrive in the unforgiving Sahara Desert, but scientists say the Saharan silver ant is a rare exception to this rule. These little critters have an uncommon adaptation: specially shaped silver hairs that reflect sunlight, keeping their bodies cool in the searing desert heat.

The Sahara Desert is the planet’s biggest hot desert, spanning 3.6 million square miles and engulfing the bulk of North Africa. The Sahara is known for its dust devils, hurricane-force sand storms, and temperatures that reach as high as 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

Parts of the Sahara receive less than one inch of rain each year. As a result, most of the Sahara has little vegetation or water, making it one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Still, the little Saharan silver ant marches on.

Scientists say this odds-defying insect is able to tolerate and even thrive in the Sahara due to the uniquely shaped silver hairs on its body that reflect both near-infrared and visible light that relentlessly hit the desert. In addition, the hairs help the ant to disburse the heat from its body, allowing it to keep its cool.

This special adaptation lets the Saharan silver ant keep its body temperature below their thermal maximum of 128.48 degrees Fahrenheit. Even with this adaptation, the ant can only survive for less than 10 minutes in the deadly midday sun, necessitating quick foraging trips to find food, which usually consists of other fallen arthropods that just couldn’t hack the heat.

Although the Saharan Desert is one of the world’s harshest terrestrial environments, desert life is hostile and difficult on every continent. Read about how these desert cacti, a vital source of food and shelter for a variety of desert wildlife and pollinators, face possible extinction in North and South America.

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