Why ants walk around the iPhone in circles

Why ants walk around the iPhone in circles

The viral video in which ants start going in circles around an iPhone as soon as it receives an incoming call got a second wind at the end of last week - as often happens with viral videos, it was posted in 2015 and recalled again in 2018. In a new wave of interest, we cite different explanations for the insects' strange behavior and choose the most plausible of them.

The authors of the ViralVideoLab channel, where the video first appeared, explain this circular march by the "electromagnetic wave" of the incoming call, but what is meant, we do not really understand. Radio waves surround us (and the ants) all the time, and why the insects reacted exactly to this incoming signal and not to others that fill the airwaves is not clear.

Nigel Andrew, an entomologist at the University of New England, points out that ants have magnetic sensors that insects use for orientation. Indeed, some species (such as South American leaf-cutter ants Atta colombica) orient themselves to the magnetic field by means of organs located in their antennae. But first, it is unknown which species of ants are marching in the video, and second, it is unlikely that a smartphone creates magnetic field fluctuations capable of affecting the behavior of even the right kind of ants.

This is most likely due to a phenomenon we have already described. It is sometimes called the "ant circle of death," and it consists of the fact that ants, creatures deprived of sight, sometimes trap themselves in a system of sense of smell and chemical signals. On their way to a place where food is plentiful, ants emit a special signal that should attract congeners to the plentiful place. Accidentally getting on its own such trail, the ant starts walking in circles, leaving even more of the odorous substance, and new ants get on the same trail. Sometimes hundreds and thousands of insects get trapped, and the diameter of "ant circles" reaches hundreds of meters - the most impressive videos we cited here. Perhaps the same misfortune happened to the ants walking around the iPhone, and the formation of the circle coincidentally coincided with the call.

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