Collective animal groups are often described by the macroscopic patterns they form. Such global patterns, however, convey limited information about the nature of the aggregation as a whole. Here, we take a different approach, drawing on ideas from materials testing to probe the macroscopic mechanical properties of mating swarms of the non-biting midge Chironomus riparius. By manipulating ground-based visual features that tend to position the swarms in space, we apply an effective tensile load to the swarms, and show that we can quasi-statically pull single swarms apart into multiple daughter swarms. Our results suggest that swarms surprisingly have macroscopic mechanical properties similar to solids, including a finite Young's modulus and yield strength, and that they do not flow like viscous fluids.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Structural Biology
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology