Gold mining is infamously hard work. Perhaps even more difficult is prospecting new areas to mine for gold, since it can be such a long and costly process. But, researchers have published evidence in the Journal of Geochemical Exploration that ants may be useful for gold prospecting.
An earlier study found that T. tumuli termites could be used to detect gold deposits by analyzing the mineral content of their nesting mounds. Mounds that had certain concentrations of gold had gold deposits just below them. This makes yet another novel gold detecting technique for Australia (where the species of termite is abundant).
However, not all termites build mounds above ground – some build sprawling nests underground. To test whether other species of termites could detect gold deposits, the above mentioned researchers collected soil samples from above-ground termites, underground termites, and an ant species. The sampling occurred on a tract of land where the mineral content was known, and as a control, on another tract where the content was unknown.
Surprisingly, the ants were nearly three times better at collecting gold in their nests than the termites. Nest material from the ants contained up to 24.4 parts per billion of gold, whereas the above ground termites had 7.4 ppb and the underground termites had 8.4 ppb.
With more investigation into the insects, miners may be able to reduce exploration costs and duration in the future.