Nature

Fire ants can build towers to escape. Just don’t get too close.

If you spend enough time in Costa Rica’s rainforests, you’re bound to come across a mass of fire ants. They get their name from the burning bits they inflict on any being that disrupts their space, but their bites (actually, they’re stings) won’t cause any long-term harm. But man, those little stings do hurt. Medical News Today describes the stings as such:

A fire ant sting often begins with an intense pinching or burning pain immediately after the sting. This pain is short-lived, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Next comes itching or burning that may be mild or intense. Itching tends to get stronger over the next few days. Most stings heal on their own without treatment.

So what’s the message? The best way to avoid stings is to avoid contact. Wear shoes and socks when you’re out in nature. And if you or someone in your group gets stung, watch out for a rare but severe reaction that would require medical attention.

An “Eiffel Tower” of fire ants

Now that we’ve gotten the stings out of the way, let’s talk about one of the ways that fire ants are fun to watch. As reported on PRI,

[R]esearchers found that a fire ant in a bell-shaped ant tower ends up supporting the weight of just three other ants. As co-author Craig Tovey elaborated in a news release, “We found that ants can withstand 750 times their body weight without injury, but they seem to be most comfortable supporting three ants on their backs. Any more than three and they’ll simply give up, break their holds and walk away.”

Above is a time-lapse video that shows how the ants create their towers to escape. It almost seems fluid. Experts don’t think there is any conscious coordination among the ants; they just have a set of ant-rules that they all follow, and the result in these situations is the tower.


Want to see fire ants up close in the wild (but not too up close)? We plan full nature-based vacation packages – just fill out this form to get started and we’ll contact you within a few hours. 


You can see fire ants, as well as all of Costa Rica’s diverse and fascinating wildlife, on your adventures throughout the country. When traveling here, we highly recommend getting out of the hotel and into the landscapes that make this country so special. And with a good guide, you can be sure not to get stung.

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