Did a ringing iPhone cause ants to walk around it in a circle?

Ants begin walking in a circular path around around an iPhone. Did its ringing prompt the behavior? Photo: Screen grab

Ants begin walking in a circular path around around an iPhone. Did its ringing prompt the behavior?

In a mysterious show of nature, video footage shows a large group of ants walking on cement near an iPhone that suddenly form a circular walking pattern around the phone when it begins ringing. ViralVideoLab claims the electromagnetic wave of the incoming call prompted the ants to move in a circle.

While it is making for an interesting on-line discussion, including whether it is fake or real, entomology experts have varying takes on what is occurring. First, the video:

"A lot of ants use magnetism to orientate themselves," Nigel Andrew, associate professor of Entomology at the University of New England, told 9 News. "[They] have magnetic receptors in their antennae. If they're traveling long distances they use magnetic cues from the earth to know if they are going north, east, south or west."

Andrew seems to be lending credence to ViralVideoLab's claim, as does Dr. Marie-Claire Cammaerts-Tricot, an ecologist at the Free University of Brussels. She has reportedly conducted tests of ants in the laboratory and claims they respond to electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones that appear to influence their ability to be "trained" and affect the way they move, according to the Daily Mail. Her work has been criticized.

Another entomologist told 9 News the video was fake, a viewpoint shared by many commenters on YouTube. But ants are known to sometimes walk in circles, and it's simply a case of ants following each other.

"There are many ants that actually start forming in a circle without the phone," Australian entomologist Simon Robson told 9 News. "It's an unavoidable consequence of their communication systems. Having the ants together like that, the shape of the phone may have something to do with it and the vibration might get them a bit more excited, but a lot of ants will do it even without the phone."

Robson said electromagnetic waves have nothing to do with the behavior of the ants, adding, "I've never seen any evidence for it in the scientific literature. We need to be careful looking for very complex explanations when there are more simple ones available."

Several years ago, Discovery showed video of the phenomenon called a death circle or death spirals whereby army ants, which are blind, lose the trail, somehow get looped around on themselves and begin following each other in a circle until they die of exhaustion. This phenomenon has been well documented.

So, now we know for certain that ants do sometimes form circular walking patterns, but whether a ringing iPhone can prompt the behavior is debatable. Our best guess: probably not.

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