The Saharan silver ant is a unique creature that is able to survive the scorching midday heat in the Saharan and Sinai deserts. It emerges at the same time each day for just a few minutes, when no other desert creature can stand the heat, and goes foraging for insects that have succumbed to the desert inferno.

How does it do it? Scientists have discovered a number of interesting features that allow this ant to withstand body temperatures of up to 53 °C. The first feature is that the ant’s head, neck, and abdomen are covered in a dense layer of hair, which gives it a silver mercury look. All of the hairs lie in the same orientation, with the flat side par­allel to the ant’s body. But the amazing thing is that the hairs are triangular in shape and are indented with cor­rugations. They were first seen under the electron microscope in 2015 when it was discovered that the hairs act like a prism, reflecting most of the incoming sunlight away from the body through a process called total internal reflection.

Under most conditions, when light enters the hair through one of the grooved sides, it is totally reflected internally off the flat side and then exits from the other grooved side. In this way the hair keeps the light, and therefore heat, away from the ant’s body. The grooves allow more light to enter the hair, increasing the amount that can be totally internally reflected.

Each hair essentially acts like a tiny mirror that reflects nearly all of the light that hits it. This helps to regulate the ant’s temperature by limiting the amount of light that is absorbed by the body. To verify this experimentally, the researchers compared the light reflected by a regular Saharan silver ant to the light reflected by a shaved one. They show that hairy ants reflect 10 times the amount of light as shaved ants in the visible range, leading to an internal temperature difference of up to 2° C.

Here are some other discoveries that have been made, demonstrating how the ant survives scorch­ing temperatures:

Saharan silver ants have longer legs than other ants, which keep their bodies further from the hot sand.

The Saharan Silver Ant

An internal naviga­tion system based on the position of the sun helps the ants mini­mise time spent out­side the nest, because they always know the direct route back to the nest.

The ants produce heat shock proteins prior to going out in the heat. These proteins help the body continue functioning at high temperatures. In most animals they are released during exposure to heat, not prior to exposure, but this early production is essential for the Saharan silver ant.

How is it that the ant didn’t evolve tubular hairs, like most other animals, instead of special triangular hairs which act as a perfect prism reflecting light and heat away from the body? If the hairs and other heat-saving strategies were evolving over millions of years, how would the ants be able to survive those four minutes of activity in the scorching heat? They couldn’t. The prismatic shape of the hairs suggests design and knowledge of the way light behaves. How much more rational is it to believe in a Creator who made all things so well?