ABSTRACT The surface temperature of tree branches in the tropical rainforest canopy can reach up to 55°C. Ants and other small cursorial organisms must maintain adequate attachment in this extreme microenvironment to forage effectively and avoid falling. Ant adhesion depends on liquid secretions that should become less viscous at high temperatures, causing ants to slip. However, tropical arboreal ants have high thermal tolerance and actively forage on hot canopy surfaces, suggesting that these ants can maintain adhesion on hot substrates. We measured tarsal pad shear adhesion of 580 workers (representing 11 species and four subfamilies) of tropical arboreal ants at temperatures spanning the range observed in the field (23–55°C). Adhesive performance among species showed three general trends: (1) a linear decrease with increasing temperature, (2) a non-linear relationship with peak adhesive performance at ca. 30–40°C, and (3) no relationship with temperature. The mechanism responsible for these large interspecific differences remains to be determined, but likely reflects variation in the composition of the secreted adhesive fluid. Understanding such differences will reveal the diverse ways that ants cope with highly variable, and often unpredictable, thermal conditions in the forest canopy. Summary: Tropical arboreal ants routinely adhere to superheated tree branches. Adhesive performance varies interspecifically, but in many cases corresponds to the average daily surface temperature of canopy branches.
Alyssa Y. Stark, Katherine A Arstingstall, S. Yanoviak
Journal of Experimental Biology