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UK Researchers to Track Northern Hairy Wood Ants' Behavior

Aug 24, 2012 07:54 AM EDT

One thousand northern hairy wood ants will be tagged so as to study how they travel and communicate in their colonies, according to researchers from the University of York.

The researchers are placing tiny radio receivers during the summer in 2013, to study how the wood ants communicate between their nests at the National Trust's Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire, UK.

The place is the colony for the hairy wood ants where they have built distinctive shapes of nests with ant highways and ant queens spread between the nests. For their study, experts will tag each ant with one millimeter size radio receivers without causing any harm as part of their three-year research project. The barcode on the receivers will help them to identify individual ants.

Experts will be able to study the interaction between ants, which can provide some suggestions for our telecommunications networks. "This research is about trying to find out how the ants communicate and commute between the vast network of nests and how they travel in this environment," Samuel Ellis, biologist from the University of York and who will conduct the experiment, said in a statement.

"The way the ants use this network has important implications for how they interact with their environment. And the way information is passed through the network may even have implications for our information and telecommunications networks," he said.

The study will help the authorities at the Longshaw estate to figure out ways to manage the woodland, which are made up of oak and birch trees, and avoid cutting down trees which insects like aphids use to source food.

Aphids and ants share a symbiotic relationship, wherein the ants use honeydew, which are rich in sugar, from the insect by gently stroking them. Sugar is not of great use to the aphids and hence they release the honeydew which the ants use to feed their offspring. In turn, the ants protect the aphids from predators.

The wood ants are also known as horse ants, and they are the largest of the ant species found in the UK. The hairy wood ants got their name as they have hairy eyebrows that can be seen through a microscope.

According to the report from the university, the hairy wood ants are polygamous with more than one queen. While the queen lives for at least 15 years, the worker ants live for just about a year.

These species belong to the northern parts of the UK, but there are also found in the southern region in places like mid-Wales.

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