Scientists to fit 1000 ants with miniature radios

Scientists will catch the tiny ants before tagging them. Photo: York University

A world-first experiment that could change the way we live is taking place on the National Trust's Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire.

Researchers from the University of York are fitting 1000 northern hairy wood ants with tiny radio receivers.

It is the world's first experiment to find out how they communicate and travel between their nests.

The project, which will take place over three years, is being conducted at Longshaw because it is a 'hotspot' for internationally protected ants.

This unique site contains more than 1000 nests and is home to up to 50 million worker ants.

Experts plan to catch the thumbnail-sized ants and attach a receiver to each one.

Sam Ellis, from the University of York said:

"The radio receivers act like a barcode to mark out each individual ant. A single ant is not particularly clever, but is part of an elaborate system that is clearly performing very effectively at Longshaw. "

– Sam Ellis - University of York
A tiny radio transmitter is glued to the ant's back Credit: University of York

Facts about northern hairy wood ants:

  • The hairy wood ant is named so because of its hairy 'eyebrows' that can be seen through a microscope.
  • They can defend themselves from predators by spraying formic acid at them. Formic acid is a 'smelly substance' about as strong as vinegar and can blister the skin.
  • Queen ants can live as long as 15 years. Workers live for about a year.
  • The ants are carnivorous and workers can find food by hunting and scavenging, they locate prey by vibration although they can see for up to 10cm.