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PharmaSeq’s innovative system for tagging insects features ultra-small, durable, low-cost ID tags called p-Chips. A major advantage of using the p-Chip system for ants is in the tags’ size and weight: only 500 x 500 x 100 μm and 82 μg. This allows an individual ant, even one as small as 2 mm in length, to carry a p-Chip placed on its back without harm or interference. When an individual passes under the laser light of PharmaSeq’s reader, the p-Chip is activated and its ID is read.

Researchers have been using p-Chip systems to tag and track colonies of hundreds of ants. At the University of Bristol, for instance, Elva Robinson and colleagues attached p-Chips to five colonies of 100-150 ants. The goal of their work was to determine how ants make the decision to leave their nest. The researchers reported their findings in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (2009). The video below demonstrates this work:

The p-Chip tagging system can be used to answer many other questions about the behavior of individual ants within a colony.

The cost of implementing a basic p-Chip system is surprisingly affordable. Please click here for pricing details or contact us for a quote at or (732) 355-0100. We will be happy to discuss your specific needs and provide an estimate.

Tagging Protocol and ID Readout System

Ants are tagged while anesthetized with carbon dioxide. To tag an ant, simply restrain the ant, apply a small amount of glue to the thorax and position a p-Chip onto the adhesive using microdissection forceps or a similar tool. The entire process takes only a few minutes. Allow the glue to dry fully before reintroducing the ant to other individuals. p-Chips are detected when the ant walks beneath a reader placed at the entrance of the nest. Either one or two readers can be attached to the walkway. Placing two readers in sequence along the entrance allows researchers to infer the ant’s direction of travel from the time stamp provided by the software. Depending on the size of the ant, more than one p-Chip can be attached to each individual for a greater chance of detection.

Key Points

The primary advantage of using p-Chips for tagging ants is their exceptionally small size and weight. Each p-Chip carries a unique ID that cannot be replicated. The p-Chip tagging system eliminates the need to visually monitor ant behavior and is functional 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The system also eliminates the potential for human data entry and transcription errors. Both individual and group behaviors within a colony can be studied using the p-Chip system. The system can also be implemented in other insects, including honey bees, fleas, spiders, and fruit flies, as well as in small animals, including mice and zebrafish.



  1. Robinson EJH, Feinerman O, Franks NR (2014) How collective comparisons emerge without individual comparisons of the options. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 281, 20140737. (open access)
  2. Robinson EJH, Mandecki W (2011) Distributed decisions: new insights from radio-tagged ants. In: Ant colonies: behavior in insects and computer applications. Ed. EC Sun, pp. 109-128, Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge, NY.
  3. Robinson EJH, Richardson TO, Sendova-Franks AB, Feinerman O, Franks NR (2009) Radio-tagging reveals the roles of corpulence, experience and social information in ant decision making. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 63, 627-636.
  4. Robinson EJH, Feinrman O, Franks NR (2009) Flexible task allocation and the organization of work in ants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 276, 4383-4380. (free)
  5. Robinson EJH, Smith FD, Sullivan KME, Franks NR (2009) Do ants make direct comparisons? Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 276, 2635-2641. (free)