Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Ants and Water


Dear Ed,

My six-year-old son is going through a rather inquisitive phase: some of his latest questions include 'Why do old people wave slower than young people?' and 'Why do flies fly?'

The other day he asked me how much water an ant would need to take a bath. I don't like fobbing him off with half-hearted answers, and a small part of me is intrigued to know just how much water an ant would be happy with, should it decide it wants a bath.

Can you help?

Dear Ben - This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer without getting into a discourse on the physical properties of small droplets of water in relation to various surfaces (see http://tinyurl.com/cbh2758 for a brief discussion). However, cutting to the chase and assuming a human can take a decent bath using roughly one's body weight of water, an ant should be able to do likewise, which taking a 'typical' ant in the genus Formica would be about five micrograms. A water droplet weighing five micrograms would have a diameter of approximately 0.4 mm, less than 1/50th of an inch.

Hope this helps,

p.s. - I'm just glad your son didn't ask about string theory or quantum chromodynamics...

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Ed Saugstad


Will accept most questions in general entomology, including those related to medical entomology, taxonomy, ecology, arthropod surveillance, and pest management. If you are requesting a 'mystery bug' identification, PLEASE either attach an image to your question, or post an image on a web page (such as Flickr) so that I can look at it, as verbal descriptions frequently are insufficient for a definitive identification.


21 years in the U.S. Army as a medical entomologist; duties varied from surveillance of pest populations (including mosquitoes, cockroaches, ticks, and stored products pests) to conducting research on mosquito-virus ecological relationships and mosquito faunal studies. Ten years as a civilian analyst for the Department of Defense, primarily on distribution of vector-borne diseases worldwide. Limited experience on surveillance of agricultural insects in North Dakota and Indiana.

Entomological Society of America, West Virginia Entomological Society, Society for Vector Ecology, National Speleological Society, West Virginia Association for Cave Studies.

American Journal of Public Health, Contributions of the American Entomological Institute, Japanese Journal of Sanitary Zoology, Journal of Economic Entomology, Mosquito News, and Mosquito Systematics.

B.S. in entomology from North Dakota State University in 1963, M.S. in entomology from Purdue University in 1967.

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