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Ants do Communicate through Sound...

Topic Under Discussion
Solomon Listening to Ants


I have been doing research into the field of ant communication via sound albeit as an amateur and have discovered the following article which may be of benefit to us as Muslims when answering those who dare to criticize the Noble Qur'aan.

Nearfield acoustic communication by ants

Robert Hickling
National Center for Physical Acoustics
University of Mississippi, University, MS 38677.
Richard L. Brown
Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
Mississippi State University,
MississippiState, MS 39762.

An analysis is presented of acoustic communication by ants, including a study of the black fire ant Solenopisrichteri. Generally, ants' stridulatory sounds are barely audible, but they pervade ant communities and appear to vary with the situation. Since ants are deaf to airborne sound on a human scale, it has been inferred that theycommunicate using vibrations through the soil substrate. However, from the structure of an ant's body and other evidence, the substrate transmission theory appears unlikely. A more likely explanation is that ants employ nearfield airborne sound. The acoustic receptors are believed to be concentrations ftrichoid sensilla on the two antennae. By using differences in sound displacement between the apical segments of the antennae, ants can receive signals in the nearfield and yet be deaf to sound from the farfield. Also, differences in displacement can determine the distance to a source in the nearfield. Acoustic communication by ants has apparently evolved to take advantage of nearfield sound. Additionally, we have found that the tracheal airsacs of S. richteri expand to fill the anterior of the aster. However, further research is needed to determine if this is used to amplify the stridulatory signals.

Ants Have an Acoustic World of Their Own
by Robert Hickling, NCPA, University of Mississippi

It is well known that ants do not respond to sound on a human scale. You can shout at an ant and it doesn't seem to notice. Yet many ant species communicate by means of squeaking sounds from astridulatory organ on the ant's body, consisting of a washboard-like set of ridges and a scraper. The squeaking sounds are usually very faint but they pervade ant colonies. The amplified sound of a colony of black fire ants (Solenopsis richteri), disturbed by a microphone probe pushed into their mound, is given in the attached recording. The sounds can also be heard on the web at www.olemiss.edu/'hickling/. Sounds from individual ants can be heard distinctly and there are a number of different signals. The sounds are in the audible frequency range around lkHz. Because ants appear to be deaf to airborne sound on a human scale, myrmecologists have inferred that they transmit stridulation signals through the soil, or other solid substrate. However, for a number of reasons, this mode of transmission is highly unlikely. A more likely explanation is that ants communicate with each other through the air using nearfield sound. The nearfield is an acoustic transition zone surrounding a small source, the size of an ant, in which the characteristics of the sound change abruptly before it can propagate fully in the farfield. Usually an ant is a few millimeters in size and the surrounding nearfield is roughly 200 mm in diameter, which is large enough to contain a number of ants. As with other insects, ants are believed to "hear" airborne sound with their antennae, using hair-like sensors at the tips. By sensing the relative difference in sound displacement between the tips of the antennae, an ant can detect a stridulation signal in the nearfield, where displacement changes rapidly with distance, but can not detect sound in the farfield, where displacement changes more gradually. This explains how ants can detect sound from other ants while, at the same time, being unaware of sound on a human scale. This is fortunate for ants because they would otherwise be overwhelmed by background noise, both natural and man-made. As an added bonus, sensing relative displacement between the tips of the antennae provides a means of determining the distance to a sound source, as well as its direction. With human hearing it is possible to determine the direction but not the distance to a source, because the source strength is not known. Humans generally locate a sound source using a combination of hearing and vision. For ants, the relative difference in displacement is independent of source strength and can be used to determine distance directly. Since ants appear to be almost blind, the ability to locate a source purely by means of sound would obviously be useful.

The nearfield is an acoustic effect that exists independently of ants. Since it is ideally suited to their needs, it would be surprising if they did not use it. In fact it would seem that the stridulatory organ and acoustic receptors of ants have evolved by adapting to the nearfield. Combined with chemical communication using pheromones, acoustic communication plays an important role in ant societies. A more complete knowledge of the nearfield and how ants use it will aid greatly in understanding the role of acoustic communication. (http://entweb.clemson.edu/fireant/99conf/fa3.htm).

What I want to be clear about is the exact meaning of the words used in the sura 18 by the ant: did she say 'habitations' or 'holes'? The problem I have with the word 'habitations' is that ants tend to only have one nest per colony [though it is quite possible to have upto 3 nests in the same colony for some species] so for an ant to be 'speaking' to members of her own colony this would imply only one 'dwelling' in the literal sense. I feel that maybe the word 'masaakeenakum' may actually mean 'hole' if translated precisely from the Arabic to the English in which case, the ant is simply 'saying' to the others from the same colony....enter your holes [of which there are sometimes several for entry into each nest]..... Of course if the word 'masaakeenakum' means 'homes' or 'dwelling places' then it could be that the ant is speaking to all ants present whether from her own particular nest or from others in the vicinity that happen to be in hearing distance to her, though I do not know whether many ant species cooperate intra-specially in this way. Of course it may be that this particular species of ant had 'satellite' nest sites in addition to the main nest site or that the colony had more than one nest within it.

All my research seems to show that scientifically ants are able to:

  • sense vibrations through soil and

  • communicate alarm,distress and contentment signals via stridulation [or rubbing together of segments in their gasters] through a range which would allow many ants to be able to understand [approx. 20cm diameter according to research]

  1. Additionally it is known from Qur'aan and Sunnah sources that Rasool'Allaah (peace be upon him) said words to the effect that everything that lived on earth knew of him so this could also have been the case for other prophets when they were living and so for the ants to have known of Solomon through
    inspiration is not unusual especially bearing in mind that Solomon (alayhee wa sallam) had powers of understanding the speech of animals and plants according to narrations.

  2. For Solomon (alayhee wa sallam) to have been able to heard the ant's speech is not unusual since the noise made by ants stridulating is audible though faint in intensity. This is especially easier to understand if we understand that there was a specific reason why Allaah azza wa jul wanted him to hear this ant's speech at that time and Solomon (alayhee wa salaam) making du'a to Allaah directly after this event sees to add strength to this postulation.

  3. Solomon (alayhee was sallam) is not reported to have spoken to the ants but merely to have understood the ant's speech.

So putting everything together it seems that Allaah azza wa jul inspired the ant to be able to 'know' that Solomon (alayhee was sallam) was entering the valley with his army. The ant would undoubtedly have felt the vibrations from the movement of so many troops long before they came nearer to it and so it was able to warn the others through stridulation to be aware lest they were trodden on. It is possible that the complexity of information which can be relayed via stridulation is such that very many different pieces of information can be conveyed in this manner through subtle variations in the signal - the field of near field communication in ants is very new and not much research has been done on this as yet.

Hoping to hear from you soon with your reply.


Amer Yousafzai


Thank you for your excellent contribution. I am sure our readers can benefit from the information that you have provided.

As far as your question regarding the implication of 'Masaakinakum' is concerned, it implies 'dwellings'. Nevertheless, the word 'dwellings' can be used in the referred context, even if all the ants present on the scene belonged to the same colony. In this usage, the word 'dwelling' would be used for the individual place of dwelling for each ant, even if all of them resided in the same nest.

I thank you once again for your excellent contribution.


Moiz Amjad

September 1, 2001

Answer published by Moiz Amjad