1000 northern hairy wood ants at the Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire are taking part in a groundbreaking experiment to track their behaviour. Researchers from the University of York have fitted each ant with its own tiny radio receiver to monitor the species' travel and communication patterns.
The National Trust's Longshaw Estate is a hotspot for the internationally protected northern hairy wood ant, hosting over 1000 nests and 50 million inhabitants. The ants are large - about the size of a thumbnail - and the receivers are just a millimetre in length.
Their signals will enable researchers to study how ants communicate with others in their colonies. These complex structures consist of a series of nests connected by highways, with ant queens spread between the nests. The research data will help staff at the Longshaw Estate manage the ancient birch and oak woodland that the ants live in without harming their environment.
– Samuel Ellis, researcher at the University of York
A single ant is not particularly clever but is part of an elaborate system that is clearly performing very effectively at Longshaw. 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.