Uncategorized ant-farm

Published on July 24th, 2008 | by Levi Novey

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Turkish Man Believes His Ant Farms Can Predict Earthquakes

July 24th, 2008 by

When you were younger, did you ever own an ant farm? I’m still begging my wife to get me a glow-in-the-dark one that we saw several years ago in a science center gift shop. Ok, begging might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but I’d still like the novelty gift.

A child views his ant farm

In any case, when we saw the ant farm it made me think fondly back on the several ant farm colonies I had as a child, and how interesting and cool the ants were to watch as they built their tunnels. I never had any idea though that ants might be able to predict earthquakes.

Now a man in Turkey, Kadir Sutcu, is using several ant colonies in his home to predict when earthquakes will occur. As the article I read claims, in early July Sutcu was successful in predicting an earthquake before its occurrence by watching the behavior of his ants. Supposedly, he even sent out thousands of emails warning people before the earthquake hit (I wonder how many people took him seriously at that time, and also how many do now).

Sutcu does not claim to be an expert, but says that his ants started behaving in a distressed manner and that some started dying about 24 hours before the earthquake occurred. He has a website where he publicly records his data and findings. Unfortunately for me and probably most of you readers, the website is written in a foreign language (Turkish anyone?). But just how plausible is it that ants can predict earthquakes?

Guess What? Several Scientists Were Doing a Study on Ants When an Earthquake Occurred. They Were Able to Use the Data They Were Collecting to Put the Question of Whether or Not Ants Can Predict Earthquakes to Test

There has been a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence that ants can predict earthquakes. Conducting a scientific study to test this idea though is challenging given the unpredictable nature of earthquakes. Luckily for us, biologists John Lighton and Frances Duncan just happened to be collecting data about the behavior of desert harvester ant colonies in California’s Mojave Desert during the magnitude 7.4 Landers Earthquake of 1992 and its subsequent aftershocks.

While Lighton and Duncan’s data was intended to answer other research questions about ants, they were also able to use it for the duel purpose of finding out whether or not these particular ants provided any indications that the earthquake and its aftershocks were going to occur. They published their findings in the Journal of Experimental Biology in a 2005 paper titled “Shaken not stirred: a serendipitous study of ants and earthquakes.” While the paper is only five pages, a good summary of the story of the researchers and their findings is also available here.

So what did their results show? The researchers found absolutely no evidence that the ants in their study were influenced by earthquakes or that the ants provided any behavioral signs that would help predict earthquakes.

So does this mean Kadir Sutcu and his ants are frauds? Not necessarily. I’m not sure which species of ants he uses to predict earthquakes, but I bet they are not Mojave Desert Harvester Ants. There is amazing diversity in the ant world, and there are over 14,000 documented species of ants (with many more still yet to be documented no doubt).

Given the specific behaviors that some ant species have developed (e.g., leaf-cutting ants, army ants, driver ants), I would not doubt that some species might have adapted through evolution with earthquake predicting abilities. If earthquakes destroy ant colonies in some areas, then why not? I would be thrilled if some day we find out the answer.

Maybe it’s time to order that glow-in-the-dark ant farm.

Read More About Ants and Insects on the Green Options Network:

Argentine Ants Change Diet at Will

Tip o’ the Day: The Ants Go Marching

Eat Insects, Save on Food, Help the Environment

Photo Credit: Shabby Chica on Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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About the Author

Levi Novey is a conservation professional who has received a bachelor's degree in History from Tufts University and a master's degree in Conservation Social Sciences from the University of Idaho. He worked for the U.S. National Park Service for 10 years, as a park ranger in 6 national parks, as a social science researcher in 5 parks, and as the science communicator for a Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring Network that serves 9 parks. He has authored several scholarly papers as well as several guidebooks to U.S. national parks. Levi also has taught an undergraduate Environmental Communication Skills course at the University of Idaho, won several photography contests, and regularly enjoys visits to parks, protected areas, historical sites, museums-- and just about anywhere where he can learn something new about the world. He currently lives in Peru, with his wife Alicia, and their daughter Coral.



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  • ronald

    im sure if insects are monitored there can be some kind of prediction like maui quake 2 on youtube i had a securaity camera during that powerful quake which showed the cats reacton to very tiny movements of the aproaching quake. which is not a prediction but responce to an already aproached quake see for yourself animals hear them not feel them

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  • http://www.squidoo.com/loveofravens cchiovitti

    Jim47 has a really good point, animals which are accustomed to regular phenomena may not have noticably altered behavior patterns. I never thought about it that way. Interesting.

  • Jim47

    One of the guiding principles of contemporary Physical Cosmology is that all things are connected. Being somewhat Holistic myself, I believe that it is certainly possible that the behaviors of lower animals can help predict various physical phenomena; it would be silly to believe otherwise. Certainly more study would be good. One thing that would be important to do in any further research is to do a comparative study. It is possible that the harvester ants that Lighton and Duncan were studying are used to earthquakes – the Mojave is quite prone to large temblors, as is all of Southern California – and so had no reaction to the Landers Event if it had no effect on their colony. Other species of ants might be more reactive. Certainly, this is the sort of stuff that the Internet was designed for: the dissemination of interesting information, and the discussion thereof.

  • dyuhl

    I’ve lived long enough to believe that anything is possible.

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