Red Wood Ants Observed Altering Behavior Before Earthquakes

Posted on April 13, 2013

LiveScience reports that scientists from the University Duisburg-Essen in Germany have been monitoring the nests of red wood ants for the past couple years. The scientists have observed unusual behavior in the ants before and after earthquakes.

During a typical day, red wood ants are active outside of the nest as they forage for food. The ants then rest inside the nest for the night. However, before some earthquakes - including a 3.2 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter 32 kilometers from the ants nest - the ants did not return to to the nest at night. The scientists also observed that it took the ants about a day to return to their normal schedule following an earthquake.

The scientists discuss the possibility of establishing an ant-monitoring network to predict earthquakes.

The scientists write, "If the ants' reaction and behaviour in the run-up to earthquakes would be significant and reproducible, an ant-monitoring network - similar to meteorological monitoring stations - has to be taken into account, which could provide the possibility of earthquake prediction with an adequate lead time."

The researchers say the red wood ants can detect changes in CO2 concentrations arising from the deep crust. Concentrations of this gas are known to change just before an earthquake occurs. The scientists also suspect the ants can "record acoustic, electro-magnetic and micro-seismic signals coming from the deep crust."

Gabriele Berberich, one of the lead researchers on the study from University Duisburg-Essen, told LiveScience, that they plan to try the ant study in a more tectonically active region.