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Red wood ant mound. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Some species of red wood ants, found in Europe and North America, build 7-foot mounds in the forests. A few years ago, a husband-and-wife team of geologists, Gabriele and Martin Berberich, noticed the mounds tend to be found near active tectonic faults. They struggled to publish that observation. "It sounds crazy, right? — geology and ants interacting?" says their collaborator Israel del Toro, an entomologist at Lawrence University in Wisconsin.

But in a study published last week, they outlined an experiment modeled on medicine's double-blind test to determine whether there is an association between the geology of a place and the occurrence of ants there. They found there is.

"These things that are really conspicuous in nature often get overlooked. But when we look, something cool pops up," says Del Toro.

How they did it: Del Toro and his colleague mapped the location of nests in two forested areas in Denmark without knowing the geology or the hypothesis. The Berberichs meanwhile compiled data about the tectonic faults in the area, not knowing what Del Toro found.

When they put the two datasets together, they found the ants' nests "were eight times more likely to be found within 60 m of known tectonic faults than were random points in the same region but without nests."

What's next: Correlation, of course, doesn't imply causation. The researchers want to know whether there is any underlying biology. One idea: the ants could be using warm gas released from microfaults that can't be seen with the eye as chimneys to stay active during the cold winters. They plan to now map the microfaults in the area and determine their temperature.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
44 mins ago - Economy & Business

How the tech stock selloff is hurting average Americans

Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Investors holding the ultra-popular Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 index funds have been hard hit over the last two weeks as tech shares have been roiled by rising U.S. Treasury yields.

Why it matters: Even though the economy is growing and many U.S. stocks are performing well, most investors are seeing their wealth decline because major indexes no longer reflect the overall economy or even a broad swath of public companies — they reflect the performance of a few of the country's biggest companies.

1 hour ago - World

UN rights chief: At least 54 killed, 1,700 detained since Myanmar coup

A Feb. 7 protest in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images

Police and military officers in Myanmar have killed at least 54 people during anti-coup protests, while "arbitrarily" detaining over 1,700 people, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said Thursday.

Why it matters: Protesters have demonstrating across Myanmar for nearly a month, demanding the restoration of democracy after the country's military leaders overthrew its democratically elected government on Feb. 1.

3 hours ago - Health

The danger of a fourth wave

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Anomalous Arkansas case data from Feb. 28 was not included in the calculated change; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. may be on the verge of another surge in coronavirus cases, despite weeks of good news.

The big picture: Nationwide, progress against the virus has stalled. And some states are ditching their most important public safety measures even as their outbreaks are getting worse.