A team of scientists have discovered Neocapritermes taracua, a new species of termites that explode themselves when their nest is attacked by some predators. Credit: Science Journal/R. Hanus
However, Australian miners are now resorting to tapping ants and termites - considered as pests by many households - to lead them to undiscovered gold deposits. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) research scientist Aaron Stewart explained that these small insects stockpile traces of heavy metal, including gold, on ant mounds, particularly located in deep underground nests in the Australian Outback.
He explained that the sub-surface materials ant colonies bring up are good indicators of undetected mineral deposits beneath the surface. Mr Stewart pointed out that a great part of Australia is covered by a layer of earth that hides buried minerals.
"But signs of resources are often close to the surface. In some places we have shown that termites and ants can bridge that gap by bringing up evidence from 5m down," News.com.au quoted Mr Stewart.
However, he clarified that anthills may not be rich sources of gold dust, but could yield few telltale signs.
Tapping insects to find hidden resources is actually an old technology based on writing of Greek historian Herodotus over 2,000 years ago that large burrowing ants in the Indian part of the Persian Empire helped discover gold dusts while tunnels were being dug.
While mining companies said the CSIRO report would probably not alter the way they explore for gold and other resources, they acknowledged that ants and other insects could become vital tools in future exploration.
He said the findings could help Australian miners reduce the cost of their traditional exploration methods of drilling grids of holes, which can run into thousands of dollars per hole.
The CSIRO report came out in the November 2012 issue of Geochemistry journal and PLoS ONE.
Because of the fiscal cliff, eurozone debt crisis and corporate earnings recession, many investors are uncertain about the prospects for gold prices in 2013, with opinion divided that prices could either rally or crash next year.