Ground-penetrating radar has been used to nondestructively map an ant colony for the first time.
The results have been digitised and fed into an interactive visualisation system so that the colony can be explored virtually.
The system is inexpensive compared to earlier approaches and could be used in many fields.
Visitors at the SIGGRAPH conference in Los Angeles have been putting the system through its paces this week.
The colonies of leafcutting ants like the Atta texana are huge, spanning many metres underground.
"Leafcutting ant nests can hold a 3-storey house—the rural legend is that tractors can disappear into them," says Carol LaFayette, a fine artist by training who spearheaded the project.
Myrmecologists seeking to map out the colonies have resorted to painstaking methods such as scraping away soil layer by layer, or pouring a casting material into the colonies and then excavating the casts.