Ants may behave differently before an earthquake, research says

A new study on animal prediction of earthquakes

Ant-icipation: Insects know when earthquakes are coming

Ants with the world’s worst taste in real estate seem to sense earthquakes before they strike, according to research presented Thursday at the European Geosciences Union annual meeting in Vienna.

Research on ants in Germany showed that they follow regular behavior patterns UNLESS a 2.0 or greater magnitude earthquake is about to occur. Then, they procede to shore up their nest.

So how do ants know an earthquake is coming? Berberich suspects the insects pick up changing gas emissions or local shifts in the Earth’s magnetic field.

“Red wood ants have chemo receptors for carbon dioxide gradients and magneto receptors for electromagnetic fields,” she said. “We’re not sure why or how they react to the possible stimuli, but we’re planning on going to a more tectonically active region and see if ants react to larger earthquakes,” Berberich added.

I’d REALLY like to see more results on this. Earthquake precursors is an area in which I am very much interested and have researched before. I find the idea that animals can sense at least some coming earth changes is highly plausible. Their senses and adaptations are very different than ours. However, it’s not the most reliable way of predicting quakes since each quake is a bit different and has different geological characteristics and other variables. One concern in a study like this is the blinding. The data must show that the odd behavior was clearly recorded and stands out repeatedly from typical behavior or you have the chance that retrofitting of the data occurs which gives you a spurious result. And so, they devised a way.

The researchers used an “automated image analysis routine” to 45,000 hours of video they acquired of the ants.
This, they say, can objectively identify and classify the ants’ activity using a statistical analysis. Why these ants? The abstract (EGU2013-24) for the presented paper (not a physical paper yet, just a presentation at a conference) notes:

A particular advantage of monitoring RWA [red wood ants] is their high sensitivity to environmental changes. Besides an evolutionarily developed extremely strong temperature sensitivity of 0.25 K, they have chemoreceptors for the detection of CO2 concentrations and a sensitivity for electromagnetic fields. Changes of the electromagnetic field are discussed or short-lived “thermal anomalies” are reported as trigger mechanisms for bioanomalies of impending earthquakes.

While this research was presented at a conference for peer review, it has not yet been published. But I am excited about the potential for this!

European red wood ant Formica polyctena Photo: ProjectNoah.org

European red wood ant
Formica polyctena Photo: ProjectNoah.org

  2 comments for “Ants may behave differently before an earthquake, research says

  1. RDW
    April 12, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    Another possible factor could be that the ants can sense the tiniest of vibrations through their feet. What might be undetectable to sensors, would be a very big deal to a tiny little ant. Of course, that’s not based on anything but speculation.

  2. Bob
    April 12, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    Why do you hate….yeah, I got nothing for this story.

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