Scientists from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have completed a study that suggests that ants can sense impending earthquakes. The study, presented by Gabriele Berberich at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, shows that ants change their behaviour before a quake and resume normal behaviour on the day after the quake subsides.

(Flickr/Bulldog Pottery)

The research team reached its conclusion after studying European red wood ants for three years; the specific focus was on ants that built colonies along active fault lines in Germany. These lines are cracks formed on the surface of the earth due to violent ruptures.

The study counted 15,000 ant mounds lining the faults and used specially designed software to track the ants' activities, 24 hours a day, between 2009 and 2012. Analysis suggests the behaviour patterns of the ants changed every time there was an earthquake that measured higher than 2.0 on the Richter scale. There were a total of 10 quakes, between 2.0 and 3.2, during the study period.

Sensing the Quake

Researchers said that on the day before a quake, ants would not enter the mound at night. Instead, they would move around outside the structure. This behaviour continued until a day after the quake. The report suggested this was perhaps the most advanced and accurate display of animals predicting natural calamities.

Berberich suggests the awareness levels could be a result of an ability to register changing gas emissions or note tiny changes in the Earth's magnetic field. Red wood ants have special cells called chemoreceptors, which allow them to detect changes in carbon dioxide levels. They also have magnetoreceptor cells, which help them detect electromagnetic fields.

The researchers now plan to continue their studies in areas with more frequent and intense seismic activity.

The study is believed to be the first to have discovered ants' ability to predict earthquakes. Previous research suggests ants can withstand high levels of radioactivity.