John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Watch where you step in the Palmetto State.
After its historic drenching these past several days—seriously, almost 27 inches of rain fell in Mount Pleasant—South Carolina has been awash in all kinds of horrible news. More than a dozen people have died, dams are breaching all over, more evacuations are likely, and coffins are bobbing up from the waterlogged earth.
Certainly not as important, but disturbing nonetheless, is that the floodwaters are slicked with living, squirming mats of fire ants.
A reporter with FOX Carolina almost stepped in one this weekend, thinking it was just a “pile of mud,” according to the station, which provides these details on the causation of ant-islands:
Turns out, fire ants have the ability to form life rafts out of their own bodies, researchers at Georgia Tech said.
Colonies of ants link together and create a weave that allows the masses to float on the water.
National Geographic states that when waters start to rise, the ants gather their eggs and start weaving living life rafts. The fine layer of hairs on the ants’ bodies even traps a layer of air to prevent the ants on the lowest level of the raft from being completely submerged.
The ants can remain in this formation for weeks, if necessary.
Got that? In addition to boiling their drinking water and having their economy dinged by billions, South Carolinians must also be wary for weeks about stepping on insectoid carpets that envelop the feet like angry, stinging galoshes.
Here’s another ant flotilla in some guy’s backyard—entomophobes beware this one’s especially gross: