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Termites, Ants Dig Up Gold And Mineral Deposits

Scientists have discovered an ingenious way of finding new gold and mineral deposits: by analyzing the nests of ants and termites.

| December 17, 2012 | In the Lab

AsianScientist (Dec. 17, 2012) - Scientists have discovered an ingenious way of finding new gold and mineral deposits, by analyzing ant and termite nests that show evidence of gold hidden deep underground.

In two studies published in PLoS ONE and Geochemistry: Exploration, Environment, Analysis, the researchers found high concentrations of gold in the termite mounds of West Australian goldfields, indicating that there is a larger deposit underneath.

"We're using insects to help find new gold and other mineral deposits. These resources are becoming increasingly hard to find because much of the Australian landscape is covered by a layer of eroded material that masks what’s going on deeper underground," said Dr. Aaron Stewart, an entomologist at CSIRO.

Termites and ants burrow into this eroded layer and bring traces of gold to the surface, the researchers say.

"The insects bring up small particles that contain gold from the deposit's fingerprint, or halo, and effectively stockpile it in their mounds," he said.

"Our recent research has shown that small ant and termite mounds that may not look like much on the surface, are just as valuable in finding gold as the large African mounds are that stand several meters tall."

Mineral resources make up AU$86.7 billion of Australia's exports and after 150 years of mining, gold and other mineral deposits near the surface have already been discovered.

Miners need new tools to explore deeper underground, and insects could provide a new, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly way of exploring for new mineral deposits, avoiding the traditional method of expensive and often inaccurate drilling.

Stewart's work has also found that insects carry metals in their bodies, and that the metals accumulate in their excretory systems.

"Although the insects may not concentrate metals in their bodies, they actively rid their bodies of excess metals. This process shows up as little stones, much like kidney stones in people. This finding is important because these excretions are a driving force in redistribution of metals near the surface," he said.

The articles can be found at:

Stewart AD et al. (2012) Distribution of Metals in the Termite Tumulitermes tumuli(Froggatt): Two Types of Malpighian Tubule Concretion Host Zn and Ca Mutually Exclusively.

Stewart AD et al. (2012) Source of anomalous gold concentrations in termite nests, Moolart Well, Western Australia: implications for exploration.


Source: CSIRO; Photo: CSIRO Entomology.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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