Ants get radio “backpacks” to track networking

A thousand British ants are now sporting radios on their backs. It’s part of a project to track how the group forms its own social and informational network.

The Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire is run by the National Trust and is home to around 50 million northern hairy wood ants. Despite that number the species is considered rare and is officially classed as “near threatened.” Longshaw and an area in the Yorkshire Moors are the only two places where the ants are found in large numbers.

Researchers from the University of York have attached radio trackers to the ants. The average ant’s length is about the width of a human adult thumbnail and the tracker is around one millimetre square, so it shouldn’t cause any disruption to the ants’ activities.

Information gathered using the receivers will help National Trust staff learn more about the ants movement, which will help them in managing the oak and birch woodland where they live.

Meanwhile the university researchers are interested in the way the ants move about and communicate. They believe colonies of ants as a whole develop systems to pass on information efficiently, minimizing the physical movement required. Those systems could help humans find more efficient techniques for online communication.

The three year project follows claims we reported earlier this week that the way ants organize themselves to leave a nest and hunt for food resembles the TCP system used to regulate the flow of data when transmitting files over the Internet.

(Image credit: University of York)