Where Ants Go When It Rains


Where do ants go when it rains?

— Anonymous. San Diego

Starbucks? Grandma sez they come to our house. But bugologists say, nay, nay. We have so many different styles and flavors of ants living everywhere except our coldest knobs, there is a variety of answers to your question. So let’s stick to ants in our particular ’hood, most of which build above-ground cones with a pretty complicated network of underground tubes and rooms and drainage piping. In an ordinary rainfall, the loose soil around the mouth of the ant hole can absorb much of what hits the place. Some runs off because the surface tension on each droplet isn’t broken. If water gets inside, some of it is diverted into a system like storm drains. And some ants can close the opening in the top of the anthill and keep water out more effectively. At any rate, ordinary rains drive ants back into their nests, where they’re pretty safe. But if a hard rain’s gonna fall, ants that are able to bail out of the hill will head for higher ground and protection, like Grandma’s kitchen. Deluges will kill a bunch of ants, it’s true, though they’ll never hit the endangered species list.

The bug that laughs heartily at rain? Flies on, chuckling arrogantly, flicking the drops away? Mosquitoes. You’d figure a mosquito hit with a hearty drop would spin to the ground in flames. Well, maybe not flames. But again bugsters say, nay, nay. Everything you know about bugs is wrong, to put a finer point on a bit of Firesign Theater wisdom. This science-guy research comes from Georgia Tech, in the heart of the humidity-and-bug belt of our U.S. Why, one Tech engineer puzzled, can mosquitoes survive a downpour, when they weigh maybe a couple of milligrams and a raindrop can be 50 times heavier? He held a mosquito roundup in his backyard, put them in a box of some sort, squirted them with a simulated rainstorm, and turned on his high-speed video camera. Turned out the dang bugs flew right into the drops. Didn’t dodge and evade. Didn’t hide out. No cowering, sniveling. Just flew straight ahead, and damn the torpedoes. A mosquito’s mass is so small that virtually none of the momentum from the falling drop is transferred to its body. It bobbles a little and buzzes on. Mosquito Man opines that big ol’ bees wouldn’t be so lucky, which is why they seek shelter. He’s busy figuring that one out as we speak.

Hey Matt:

Perhaps it was just propaganda from some spud farmer, but I once read/heard that a diet of just milk and potatoes would provide all the vitamins and minerals we need to survive. Is this so?

— A Potato Lover, via email

There’s no booster like a spud booster. Who doesn’t love ’em? The masterpiece of vegetables, to be sure. Tater lovers do go on and on, especially because the veggies do have a bundle of vitamins and minerals. And if you knock milk, I think you can be prosecuted for treason. This potato-and-milk factlet has been knocking around for so long, it’s been debated to shreds. Consensus is that you can blunder along fairly well on eight pounds of potatoes (without garnish) and two gallons of whole, vitamin-D-fortified milk a day. That’s pushing 6000 calories. For a living, I hope you fell trees with an axe or push large rocks up steep hills. But true, nutrition-wise, you’ll only be lacking a bit of vitamin E and a mineral called molybdenum. Lots of home-building tools are made of molybdenum, so perhaps you can add a drill bit to your milky potato diet. Or just add oats and legumes.


Why is Antarctica a continent, but the Arctic isn’t?

— Windsor Castle, via email

Geographers made up the idea of continents but had a little trouble convincing the full membership how to divide up the globe. Some say there are six continents, some say seven, Europe and Asia two continents, or just one, as in Eurasia? The argument has something to do with tectonic plates. But anyway, one thing they do agree on is the definition of a continent as a big land mass. The Antarctic, though a squiggly white patch on the map, is actually a land mass. It’s connected to the earth’s crust. Under all that ice are rocks and stuff. The Arctic, a region of the globe, not a country or a continent, is just ice. So, no land? The doormen won’t let you into the club. But sometimes big land masses are admitted to clubs you might not expect. Greenland is part of the North American continent. All the land crumbs too small to form their own continents get swept into some nearby qualifying large land mass.

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