The perpetrator of what is probably the world's tiniest diamond heist was an ant, and its daring caper took place in plain sight. Not only was the theft detected within moments; the ant's antics were captured in a video that quickly went viral after it was posted to YouTube on Aug. 7.
In the video clip, piles of very small diamonds can be seen on a desk blotter. The camera zooms in and focuses on an unusual flurry of activity near a corner of the blotter, revealing an ant hurrying away with a diamond grasped firmly in its mandibles. At the very least, the determined insect deserves points for its confidence — the diamond appears to be nearly as big as the ant's own body. [Gallery: 13 Mysterious and Cursed Gemstones]
For about 47 seconds, the camera follows the ant as it carries its glittering prize across the table. Sometimes the ant forges forward with the diamond, and sometimes the insect reverses direction and drags the diamond behind it.
Though diamonds are certainly unusual items for an ant to target, the industrious insects are well-known for their foraging behavior, and those that live in colonies often collect items to bring back to their nests, said Helen McCreery, a researcher with the Department of Integrative Biology at Michigan State University.
And ants frequently carry objects that are much bigger and heavier than they are, according to McCreery, who studies the group behavior and collective intelligence of social ants.
"I've seen ants drag things well over 100 times their mass — they are very strong," she told Live Science.
That type of strength can vary greatly among ant species, and it's hard to tell from the video which species the diamond thief represents — but it's clearly not unusual for ants to carry objects that outweigh them. Ants typically drag heavy items, and since the ant in the video alternates between carrying the diamond and dragging it while moving backward, the gem may have been just on the border of a weight that the insect could comfortably carry, McCreery said.
Food for thought
In general, when foraging ants pick something up, it's usually a piece of food, McCreery said. Ants may also carry materials to incorporate into their homes, but it's not very likely that this ant had an engineering purpose in mind for the diamond. The more probable explanation is that there was a substance coating the gem, which made the ant think it was something edible, McCreery said.
It was also surprising to see that the ant was able to grasp something as slick as a diamond, though the gem's shape may have made it easier for the ant to grip it between its jaws, she added.
The video ends on a suspenseful note: It cuts abruptly while the ant is still marching resolutely along. Viewers are then left wondering if the person behind the camera decided that enough was enough and retrieved their property from the pint-size crook, or if they decided to let the ant escape with its ill-gotten treasure and live to steal another day.
Original article on Live Science.