Earthquakes are big. Ants are small. Nevertheless, a recent story by LiveScience tells of red wood ants in Germany that predict oncoming earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater.
These Formica ants incidentally prefer the soil along fault lines, with “more than 15,000 red wood ant mounds lined up along Germany’s faults, like candy drops on a conveyor belt”. The researchers who studied these ants (Gabriele Berberich et al.) detected shifts in nest behavior prior to earthquakes that occurred between 2009 and 2012, with the typically diurnal ants exhibiting nocturnal activity leading up to the events. Remarkably, normal behavior resumed a day after each earthquake.
Berberich et al. aren’t sure how these miniature seismologists are able to detect imminent earthquakes, but they suggest that changing gas emissions or local magnetic field shifts may trigger the abnormal activity. That the researchers are uncertain of the cause is not surprising, as I am sure this is the first study to document such interesting (and potentially useful) behavior. Imagine if ants turn out to be as effective as our most advanced seismological equipment at predicting earthquakes?
More information is available on the University of Duisburg-Essen’s website.