Miniscule magnets in ant antennae act as internal GPS

May 22nd, 2009 - 1:35 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 22 (ANI): A new research has led to the discovery of miniscule magnets in ant antennae, which act as an internal GPS (Global positioning system), making these insects aware as to where they are going.

According to a report in Discovery News, while human global positioning systems rely upon receivers that pick up information from a network of satellites, the probable ant system weighs next to nothing, requires little energy to operate and appears to be mostly built out of dirt.

“The ants we studied dwell in tropical soils that are full of very fine-grained iron minerals, so there is plenty of material available,” said researcher Dr Jandira Ferreira de Oliveira of the Technical University of Munich and the Brazilian Center for Physics Research.

“The incorporation of minerals probably starts as soon as ants start getting in touch with soil,” she said.

Her team found ultra fine-grained crystals of magnetic magnetite, maghemite, hematite, goethite, and aluminum silicates in ant antennae.

These particles could make a “biological compass needle” that drives ant GPS.

For the study, published in the latest Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Oliveira and her colleagues collected worker ants from the species Pachycondyla marginata in Sao Paulo.

Prior studies found these ants tend to always migrate at an orientation of 13 degrees relative to Earth’s geomagnetic north-south axis, and that the ant’s strongest magnetic signal comes from its antennae.

High-powered microscopes and chemical analysis revealed the presence of the dirt-acquired magnetic particles in the antennae, intriguingly next to a body part called the Johnston’s organ that may also be part of the ant’s GPS.

According to Oliveira, “Our planet is magnetized, likely due to rotational forces of liquid iron in earth’s core. Although the resulting magnetic field is one-twenty thousandth as strong as a refrigerator magnet, ants appear to perceive the geomagnetic information through a magnetic sensor (the dirt particles), transduce it in a signal to the nervous system and then to the brain.”

The University of Oxford’s Dr Robert Srygley, one of the world’s leading insect experts, said that the new study “is a major advance toward finding the magnetic compass in this nomadic ant.” (ANI)

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