Researchers to use radio devices to see how ants communicate

Scientists are planning to fit radio receivers to over one thousand ants to observe their habits and ways of communication.

Last Updated: Aug 25, 2012, 15:27 PM IST

London: Scientists are planning to fit radio receivers to over one thousand ants to observe their habits and ways of communication.

Researchers from the University of York in the UK will carry out this study on the National Trust`s Longshaw Estate, Derbyshire, a hotspot for the northern hairy wood ant, the `Daily Mail` reported.

The unique site has more than a thousand nests and is home to up to 50 million workers from Britain`s largest ant species, which are internationally protected.

"This research is about trying to find out how the ants communicate and commute between the vast networks of nests and how they travel in this environment," biologist and chief researcher Samuel Ellis was quoted as saying by the paper.

The researchers plan to carefully catch the ants and in a few seconds attach a 1 mm radio receiver to them. The ants are the size of an adult thumbnail but researchers say the process will not interfere with or harm them in any way.

"The way the ants use this network has important implications for how they interact with their environment. And the way information is passed through the network may even have implications for our information and telecommunications networks," Ellis said.

The findings from the research will then be used by National Trust staff on the Longshaw estate to manage the ancient woodland, made up of oak and birch trees, where the ants can be found.

The hairy wood ant is the largest native ant species of the British Isles. Workers can measure from 8-10mm in length. It has hairy `eyebrows` visible through a microscope.

They can defend themselves from predators by spraying formic acid a smelly substance about as strong as vinegar which can blister the skin. Queens can live for up to 15 years, whereas workers live for about a year.

"The study will give us a real picture of where the ants are and how we can improve the habitat for them and other wildlife without causing disturbance," National Trust Area Ranger at Longshaw Chris Millner said.

The northern hairy wood ant has an international near-threatened conservation status with the two main populations in England found in the Peak District (including Longshaw) and in the North York Moors.

PTI