FACT CHECK:   Does a video show a group of ants circling a vibrating iPhone?

Claim:   A video shows a group of ants circling a vibrating iPhone.

  UNDETERMINED

Example:   [Collected via YouTube, August 2015]

Origins:   On 30 August 2015, the YouTube account ViralVideoLab posted a video purportedly showing ants circling an iPhone, an awe-eliciting display that drew thousands of viewers within the first few days of publications.

A number of explanations were proffered for the ant behavior shown in the video, everything from ants being affected by the “electromagnetic wave of an incoming call” to ants simply “liking to follow each other”:

“A lot of ants use magnetism to orientate themselves,” Associate Professor Nigel Andrew of Department of Entomology at the University of New England said.

“[They] have magnetic receptors in their antennae. If they’re travelling long distances they use magnetic cues from the earth to know if they are going north, east, south or west.”

The academic pointed out that the ants appear to maintain a consistent distance from the phone and appear fairly quick to re-orientate themselves.

But Australian social insect researcher Simon Robson of Queensland’s James Cook University said it was merely a case of ants liking to follow each other.

“There are many ants that actually start forming in a circle without the phone,” Mr Robson said.

“It’s an unavoidable consequence of their communication systems. Having the ants together like that, the shape of the phone may have something to do with it and the vibration might get them a bit more excited, but a lot of ants will do it even without the phone.”

The video could be an example of an ant mill, where a group of blind army ants become separated from the main hunting group, lose the pheromone trail they use to navigate and start following each other.

The ants then coalesce into a large constantly rotating circle and will continue to march to their eventual deaths from exhaustion.

Others maintained that the video was digitally created, noting factors such as:

  • The video’s source, ViralVideoLab, is also the creator of other scientifically questionable videos such as “How to Make a Paper Airplane Fly Forever — INFINITY PAPER PLANE” and “How to Make Small Things Levitate with Your Car — DIY Acoustic Levitation.”
  • The video shares attributes with other hoax clips, such as a fear-mongering premise (e.g., “This Is What Your iPhone Has Done to Your Braincells”) and a blurry subject.
  • Some of the dark blobs (i.e., ants) in the video appear to pass right through each other as they circle the iPhone. While the ability to pass through solid mass is not a characteristic common to real ants, it is possible with digitally created creatures.
  • The subheading of this video, “Ameisen umkreisen 7,” means “Ants Circle 7” in German, yet six other ant-circling videos were not uploaded to the same channel. This suggests that perhaps this clip was the seventh try at creating a convincing video of digital ants circling an iPhone.
  • While Alex Wilde, Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, couldn’t definitively say how the video was made, he did opine that it used digital ants rather than real ones:

    Suggestions for documenting the authenticity of the video include repeating the same experiment with different ants, or moving the iPhone around to see if the ants react and start circling in the opposite direction.

    Last updated:   2 September 2015

    Originally published:   2 September 2015