Falling Ants

A falling ant never dies

Weird Fact: You could drop an ant off the Empire State Building and it would survive.

The thing about ants is they’re small and hardy. Their minuscule dimensions save them from certain peril after falling any distance imaginable.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) explained the principle in his work Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences:

“Who does not know that a horse falling from a height of three or four cubits will break his bones, while a dog falling from the same height or a cat from a height of eight or ten cubits will suffer no injury? Equally harmless would be the fall of a grasshopper from a tower or the fall of an ant from the distance of the moon.”

Why’s that now?

To quote J. B. S. Haldane (1892-1964) in On Being the Right Size:

“You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.”

In essence, falling ants are so small that they would never – by gravity – reach a velocity high enough to kill them. You could drop them off a table, the Empire State Building, or a plane and they’d still survive the fall.