Appreciating Ants and Their Counting Skills

By Anupum Pant

Success = Ants

Ants are arguably the most successful multi-cellular organisms to have ever existed on earth. The first ants on earth started appearing long before humans, even before dinosaurs – about 120 million years from now. Since then, they have even survived a mass extinction event (Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event) which wiped off all the dinosaurs from the face of our planet.

Sheer Number

Except Antarctica, the Arctic, and some other remote islands, ants have spread into almost every other part of the land. In fact, today, there are so many ants in the world that for each human being on the planet, at any point of time, there are about 1.5 billion living ants – about 10 thousand trillion ants in total! Of these 8000 kinds of ants that exist, only 10% of the species have been studied.

Collective intelligence

Ants, individually aren’t very bright. But they live in vast colonies that can include upto 50 million individuals in a single colony. Each one of them can contribute their own intelligence to the group, to form a huge brain – a “collective intelligence” of a super-organism. Just like each of our neurons in our brains work individually to form an intelligent brain.

For example, it is known that each of the fire ant’s exoskeleton is made up of a material that repels water. Together, these ants can take advantage of this blessing to survive floods. It has been seen that several hundreds of ants can, within seconds, assemble into a raft that floats on water for a long time. They don’t need your boat Dexter.

Their homes

Ants are able to build massive underground cities. Some scientists have tried pouring molten aluminum or concrete, and digging into their underground cities to study their structure. The results were incredible. A colossal network of well ventilated highways and side-roads was found connecting their colonies. It seemed as if the whole structure was designed by a single master-mind. [Video]

And they can also count

In the arid deserts where the winds are powerful enough to blow away the chemical trails marked by ants, they use their in-built pedometers (step counting machines) to find their way back home. [Video]

Largest Meteorite Left No Crater On Earth

By Anupum Pant

You should know: Meteor vs. Meteoroid vs. Meteorite

Meteor: The streak of light that we see in the sky is “Meteor”. When debris enters earth and gets burned up while entering, it leaves a streak of light. Unlike what is popularly believed, meteor is not the debris itself rather the word “meteor” refers to only the flash of light.

Meteoroid: A meteoroid is a mass that is small – ranging from a kilometer to only a few millimeters in diameter. Most meteoroids that enter the Earth’s atmosphere are so small that they vaporize completely and never reach the planet’s surface.

Meteorite: If the Meteoroid survives and reaches the earth’s surface, it becomes a Meteorite.

Hoba the Meteorite

About 80,000 years back, a ridiculously huge mix of Iron and Nickel entered the earth. It was so large that what was left out of all the burning through the atmosphere, measured 66,000 kg in the end. About half ton of this meteorite has gone to laboratories for research. Even after accounting for losses towards laboratories and vandalism, it is still the largest single mass of natural Iron on the Earth’s surface. It is the largest meteorite ever discovered till date and is called “Hoba”.

This meteorite was discovered by a farmer in Namibia in the year 1920. Since then, due to its mass, it has never been moved. The meteorite and the site has been declared as a national monument by the Namibian government and several tourists visit it every year.

Farmer’s Story: 

One winter as I was hunting at the farm Hoba I noticed a strange rock. I sat down on it. Only its upper part was visible. The rock was black, and all around it was calcareous soil. I scratched the rock with my knife and saw there was a shine beneath the surface. I then chiselled off a piece and took it to the SWA Maatskappy in Grootfontein, whose director established it to be a meteorite.

If that was hardly interesting…

The most puzzling thing about this meteorite is probably not that it belongs to a very rare class of meteorites (Ataxite), but the fact that it has no crater to be seen around it. Normally, a meteorite of this size should have left a crater hundreds of meters wide.

The best theory that explains the absence of any preserved crater around it is that, this piece of rock must have hit the earth’s surface at a very low angle. As a result, it must have skipped on the surface like a flat stone on water surface. And in the end, must have landed at the place where it lies today.

The Red Rain of Kerala

By Anupum Pant

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In the year 2001, between 25th July and 25th September, people from the Indian state of Kerela (Kottayam and Idukki districts) experienced a bizarre oddity – The Red Rain of Kerala. Sporadic heavy downpours of mysteriously colored water left the people of Kerala dazed. More recently, red rains were also seen in parts of Sri Lanka between 15th November and 27th December, 2012.

Yellow, Black and Green rains have also been reported several times since 1896.

Red Rain of Kerala – Studies

A study conducted in India showed that the rain was colored because these raindrops contained millions of spherical and oval red particles which had an internal structure. These things looked like biological cells. Initially, when scientists weren’t able to confirm the existence of DNA (a fact which has baffled scientists) in them, in spite of an internal structure present in the cells, some started claiming that the origin of these red particles was extraterrestrial, possibly, coming from an exploded meteor.

Later the mystery was solved, the presence of DNA was confirmed and a study, destroying popular media claims, concluded that the red rain of Kerala had been colored due to airborne spores originating from a type of algae. There was nothing alien about it.

The unusual color of the rain was due to the presence of a unicellular micro-organism belonging to Kingdom Protista, of the Phylum Euglenozoa, known as Trachelomonas. Trachelomonas was the main cause of reddish downpours in other regions of the world as well.

[Source: The Red Rain of Kerala]