31 August 2015
Video of Ants Circling Phone Divides Academics
by Martin Zavan, 9news.com, 31 August 2015
A video apparently showing ants snap into formation when an iPhone receives a call has internet viewers asking if the tiny insects are being mind-controlled by electromagnetic waves.
Even ant experts are perplexed by the mysterious phenomenon.
One Australian researcher told ninemsn the phone "has nothing to do with it", another said it was faked while yet another said science may explain how waves could mess with an ant's internal guidance system.
"A lot of ants use magnetism to orientate themselves," Associate Professor Nigel Andrew of Department of Entomology at the University of New England said.
"[They] have magnetic receptors in their antennae. If they're travelling long distances they use magnetic cues from the earth to know if they are going north, east, south or west."
The academic pointed out that the ants appear to maintain a consistent distance from the phone and appear fairly quick to re-orientate themselves.
But Australian social insect researcher Simon Robson of Queensland's James Cook University said it was merely a case of ants liking to follow each other.
"There are many ants that actually start forming in a circle without the phone," Mr Robson said.
"It's an unavoidable consequence of their communication systems. Having the ants together like that, the shape of the phone may have something to do with it and the vibration might get them a bit more excited, but a lot of ants will do it even without the phone."
The video could be an example of an ant mill, where a group of blind army ants become separated from the main hunting group, lose the pheromone trail they use to navigate and start following each other.
The ants then coalesce into a large constantly rotating circle and will continue to march to their eventual deaths from exhaustion.
Mr Robson said electromagnetic radiation may not come into the equation at all.
"I've never seen any evidence for it in the scientific literature," he said.
"We need to be careful looking for very complex explanations when there are more simple ones available."
Professor Andrew said the theory could be tested by trying the experiment with different ants or turning the phone around to see if the insects re-orientated and started marching in the opposite direction.
© ninemsn 2015