Researchers from the University of York are fitting 1,000 northern hairy wood ants with tiny radio receivers in order to learn how they communicate and travel between their complex nests. The three-year research project will take place on the National Trust’s Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire, as it contains more than a 1,000 nests and is home to up to 50 million worker ants. The experiment is a world-first; if only for the large-scale use of the radio receivers alone, which are one millimeter in size.

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The York team have attached a receiver to each ant. The process only takes a few seconds and the team take great care to ensure they do not harm the ants in any way. The entire process is not expected to interfere with their daily activities either.

The team will examine how the ants communicate with each other in their colonies, all of which are connected by a network of ant highways, with multiple ant queens spread between the nests. The findings will then be used by National Trust staff to manage the ancient woodland.

In a statement, Samuel Ellis, a biologist from the University of York, said: “This research is about trying to find out how the ants communicate and commute between the vast network of nests and how they travel in this environment.

“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. 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.”

Chris Millner, National Trust Area Ranger at Longshaw, added: “It is fascinating to sit and watch the ants as they go about their business and they are easy to spot on a sunny day as they gather in vast numbers around their nests at this very special site.

“We will be carrying out some forestry work over the next few years, removing lots of conifer trees from modern plantations which will create a larger area of wood pasture, ideal for the ants to move into. 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.”

Click below to see the ants being fitted with radio transmitters.

+ York University

Via ITV News