Wood ant domes function as solar collectors.
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The mounds of woodants can be compared with solar collecors. The amount of energy hitting the nest depends on the angle of the sun and the way the side of the nest is positioned to the sun. The solar angle depends on season and latidude. The data in this project was collected in the Netherlands.
Fig. 1: In the summer there is a large solar angle, resulting a lot of energy reaches the nest directly. The nest on the left side is relatively flat, but collects as much light as the one on the richt. But the flat nest has less collecting surface resulting in more solar energy per m2 (W/m2). A flat nest seems to be the best summer solution, but it isn’t. When solar energy becomes to high, the ants will hide inside the nest. But when it comes to the nest on the right side, ants can still function well, because they can work on the shadowside of the nest.
Fig.2: In winter the solar angle is small. The higher the nest, the more light reaches one side of the nest’s surface. The nest on the right collects three times more sun than the nest on the left, resulting in more energy absorption. However, these large nests often shrink in autumn and winter. Natural enemies like green woodecker and wild pig can disturb nests roughly, so the angle of the dome’s slope decreases. In spring and early summer a flatter nest could be more benefitial because these nests are more efficient with solar energy (fig.1).