Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newsflash: Gold-Mining Termites.

If you walk down a street or turn on the radio, there is a good chance you will hear/see at least one  advertisement offering "cash for gold." The idea is basically selling your jewelry and antiques to get money.

The thing is, gold is actually useful. Aside from being decorative and having a loooong history as a status symbol, gold is used in computers. It's a better conductor than copper. Functional and fashionable? How wouldn't that lead to money?

Looking for a way to get some easy gold? Well, it turns out that ants and termites are natural treasure hunters. Here's the scoop from National Geographic:

"New experiments in West Australia reveal that termites "mine" and stockpile the precious metal while they're collecting subterranean material for their nests.

For the study, entomologist Aaron Stewart, with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and colleagues took samples from several termite nests and compared the nest material to nearby soil samples from varying depths.

By using a mass spectrometer—an instrument that measures molecules' chemical makeup—they discovered that the termite nests were richer in gold than termite nests farther away from the metal, Stewart said in an email. (Also see "Battling Termites? Just Add Sugar.")

"That social insect colonies can selectively accumulate metals from their environment has been known for some time," Robert Matthews, a professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Georgia, noted by email.

"Some have even suggested that ant and termite nests could be analyzed productively when searching for potential mining sites for precious metals" such as gold, he said.

Those are Stewart's thoughts exactly. Gold deposits are usually hidden a few meters below the surface, making them tough for people to locate. But insects could essentially act as indicators of this buried treasure, said Stewart, whose study appeared recently in the journal Geochemistry: Exploration, Environment, Analysis.

"Drilling is expensive. If termites can help narrow down the area that needs to be drilled, then exploration companies could save a lot of money."

~National Geographic. Source and more here.

The question is why the termites are hoarding gold. Zinc, as the article later details,  helps keep insect armor tough. Gold would seem to be far less useful to them, but who knows? Maybe the termites really regulate their mounds via supercomputers, or perhaps they just like shiny things despite being almost blind. So much like us!

By the way, don't sell your gold objects. Ever since the U.S. ditched the gold standard, the dollar has been backed up by faith. Faith in the government...riiiiight.

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