Peak project sees ants fitted with tiny transmitters

Scientists have been studying more than 900 ant nests around Longshaw in a series of groundbreaking investigations.

Friday, 23rd September 2016, 10:39 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 1:58 pm
George Talbot monitoring a nest. Pictures submitted.

The studies – which have taken place in one of England’s largest colonies of northern hairy wood ants – discovered how the insects work together to help each other.

The scientists fitted 1,000 ants with tiny transmitters and found they cooperate to share food with families in nearby nests.

University of York researcher Dr Elva Robinson explained: “It’s a buffering strategy. If there are many nests all exploring for food, a nest doing well can support a nest temporarily not doing well – and then there might come a time that the food goes back the other way.”

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A northern hairy wood ant on ranger Rachel Bennetts pencil.

Biologist Courtney Rockenbach, also from the university, added: “Ants sometimes get a bad reputation – but I think anytime we can appreciate the complexity of an organism we gain a little more respect for it.”

Longshaw owners the National Trust work closely with the York scientists and ranger Rachel Bennett said the findings help inform the organisation’s woodland and tree removal strategy.

Their latest work is centred around a recently discovered resident – the shining guest ant.

Dr Robinson added: “Really it’s an unwanted guest in the nest – you could think of it like a house mouse. At a few millimetres long, guest ants are less than half the size of a hairy wood ant but scurry around picking up discarded food in the nest. They are protected by tasting horrible to wood ants.”

A northern hairy wood ant on ranger Rachel Bennetts pencil.

From now until mid-October, the Longshaw ranger team is urging residents to join their new reserch.

Ted Talbot, National Trust countryside manager for the Peak District, said: “The northern hairy wood ant is a very special animal in the Peak District. But we certainly don’t yet know everything about hairy wood ants and this guest who lives alongside them. So if you do want to contribute to groundbreaking research you don’t have to go the Amazon rainforest – you can do it here at Longshaw.” Email [email protected] for more information.