Ants have hair, not fur. All ants and other members of the phylum Arthropoda have sensory organelles that end in hair bristles.
Scientifically, these hair bristles are known as setae. They are sensory structures that work with the insect’s nervous system to communicate with its surroundings.
The hair bristles or setae penetrate the body through the hard exoskeleton of the ant. The hair is involved in most sensory functions of the ant, including tactile sensory function and chemosensory function. The latter means smelling and tasting, and the former is more mechanical.
Why Hair And Not Fur?
So why hair and not fur? Well, for one, most scientists refer to it as hair, probably because it resembles hair more than it resembles fur. However, microlabgallery.com specifies that the ‘hair’ on ants is not exactly similar to human hair.
While our hair contains keratin, insect hair is richer in chitin, a nitrogen that contains polysaccharides. Either way, it is essential to understand how hair and fur differ from each other.
What Is The Difference Between Hair And Fur?
Understanding the difference between hair and fur can be confusing, seeing that they have similar chemical components. Scientifically, they are the same thing. However, there are several factors that clearly distinguish the two.
One of the factors is growth. Typically, hair grows longer than fur. Both have the same growth cycles: anagen, catagen, and telogen. The anagen phase is where most growth takes place. Thus, hair has a longer anagen phase compared to fur.
Another distinguishing factor is purpose. Hair and fur serve different purposes on animal bodies. Fur is shorter and coarser and, therefore, serves as an insulator for mammals during cold weather. Hair is relatively longer and softer- it provides protection against the elements but not to the extent of fur.
If anything, hair is more suited to react to environmental changes- for instance; goosebumps are as a result of your body hair reacting to cold in the environment. It is pretty much the same in insects; hair serves the purpose of responding to the environment.
The last factor that sets hair and fur apart is texture. The texture highly depends on the size of the animal. Generally, though, fur is denser and thicker than hair. For instance, hair on a human head is less dense compared to the fur on a bear.
Why Do Ants Have Hair?
As we mentioned earlier, the hair on ants is mainly for sensory reasons. It enables ants to pick stimuli from the environment and have them translated by the body for the ant to respond accordingly.
Even so, that is only the main role- ants use their hair for several other purposes, including the following:
- Communication– ants use their hairs to communicate with each other in their colonies. They are social creatures that need each other to survive, and, therefore, communication is a vital aspect of their lives. Ants are programmed to set out “bread crumbs”/trails that fellow ants in the colony can “interpret” and react accordingly.
- Movement– The tactile sensory function of the ant-hairs enables them to ‘feel’ the environment as they move around. This ability enables them to follow trails and markers that have been set by fellow comrades, which may be leading to a food or water site, and back to their colonies.
- Heat regulation– Ants, like all insects, are cold-blooded. When it is cold, they need all the heat they can get. Therefore, on top of bundling together, the hair on their bodies also helps them regulate their temperature. For instances, ants such as the Saharan silver ant rely on their hair to survive scorching temperatures.
- Gripping hard surfaces– The legs are among the body parts of an ant with the most hair. Ants can walk on all types of terrain, and these hairs assist them in getting their grips right so they do not slide and fall off.
- Picking up sounds– Tactile setae pick up vibrations from surfaces. We all know that vibrations form sounds. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that hair on ants can pick up sounds by detecting vibrations.
Which Ant Species Have The Most Hair?
The Saharan silver ant is the ant species with the most hair on its body. The name is inspired by the fact that it is covered by a layer of silver hair. These ants forage for food in an environment where most animals and insects would not survive more than a few days.
They live in a desert where temperatures can reach 158 degrees Fahrenheit on a typical day, while they have to keep their body temperatures below their critical maximum of 128.48 F.
Scientists discovered that the silver hair on the ant’s body reflects sunlight and other electromagnetic waves such as infrared light. The hair is mainly found on the top and sides of their bodies and has unique triangular cross-sectional areas that enhance the process.
Furthermore, the hair acts as an antireflection layer which enables the insects to offload any excess heat through thermal radiation. The heat is transferred from their heated bodies to the cool skies.
According to scientists, the hair on silver ants reduces their body temperature up to ten times more as compared to if they did not have the hair. Therefore, the hair on the ants helps regulate their body heat to an optimum temperature that they can survive in.
The desert environment is perfect for these ants because there are many insect corpses to feed on. Furthermore, they are able to escape predators such as lizards, who do not have the mechanisms to be active when the temperatures are that high.
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Ants, like many other arthropods, have hair on their bodies. These hairs, scientifically known as setae, are connected to the nervous system and, as such, serve sensory functions.
They enable ants to communicate with each other, find their way around, perceive sound, and change external temperature. Furthermore, the hairs help in heat regulation and gripping hard surfaces.
The ant species with the most hair on its body is the Saharan silver ant, which uses the hair to maintain its body heat by reflection and thermal radiation. In a nutshell, ants need hair to survive in their different environments.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.