On the ant trail: BBC's One Show films research at LASI

Ant Lasius niger colony members explained

The BBC's One Show has re-visited the University of Sussex Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, but this time the focus was on ants rather than honey bees.

The popular tea-time TV show had previously visited LASI to film research on the honey bee waggle dance. The report, broadcast in November last year, demonstrated how foraging bees tell other bees back at the hive where to find nectar-rich flowers. The production team was so impressed by the work at LASI they vowed to return.

During the latest visit (Friday 9 July 2010), presenter and Oxford entomologist Dr George McGavin chatted with the ant researchers while the film crew captured ants laying and following chemical trails. The report will be broadcast when The One Show is back on air in the autumn.

Ants communicate with each other in many ways. One important way is by laying down a trail of chemicals known as trail pheromones. When a worker ant finds food, she lays down trail pheromone like a string of breadcrumbs as she returns to her nest. Her co-workers can then retrace this trail to the food source. This behaviour enables ants to mobilise a large number of workers to food sources very quickly, as anyone who has left something sweet unattended outside will be able to attest.

Ants have various different pheromones with different roles, including long-lasting pheromones, short-duration pheromones, or pheromones that tell other ants "alarm!" or "no entry".

Notes for Editors

Photos: Tomer Czaczkes

A number of research projects at LASI feature work on ants. All types of social insect are important in basic science. Many species of ants have been studied to investigate how insect colonies organise themselves, and the ideas from this research have even inspired computer scientists. Social insects are valuable subjects too for the study of many other areas of biology including collective decision making, conflict resolution, developmental biology and many other topics.

For more information about research in the lab, visit LASI.

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Danielle Treanor. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email press@sussex.ac.uk



Last updated: Thursday, 15 July 2010