Ants Rescue Their Injured Comrades

Posted: Apr 13 2017, 4:08am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Ants Rescue Their Injured Comrades
Matabele ants returning from a successful raid. The big ant carries two termite soldiers of Macrotermes sp. in its mouth as prey. After a raid, a Matabele ant carries an injured mate back to the nest. Credit: Erik Frank
  • Ants show Heroic Behavior in Battle by Taking Their Injured Comrades Home

Researchers have found that ants show heroic behavior by helping out their injured comrades.

There is a species of ants called the African Matabele (Megaponera analis) which is often found scattered throughout the southern region of the Sahara Desert. They happen to be a species that hunts down termites.

From two to four times per day, the ants set out on a journey to hunt for termites. In a rank and file manner, they raid the sites where termites reside and kill many workers. They also haul back the prey to their own home turf.

These attacks are not taken sitting down and many times the termites fight back with a ferocity seldom seen in the species. When the ants get into skirmishes with the soldier termites they often suffer injuries.

The termite soldiers are very good at using their powerful jaws to attack and injure the ants. Thus a large percentage of each raiding ant party is injured in the process. Yet these clever creatures have developed methods of succour for the injured ants within their own ranks.

Anytime an ant is injured in a tiff with a termite, it naturally calls its comrades via chemical signals. This debilitated ant is carried to its nest by the comrades.

Here it undergoes convalescence after proper treatment. What is the therapy, one might ask? It mostly consists of removing the termites already sticking to the ant’s body.

A German research team of the University of Würzburg's Biocentre discovered this unique altruistic behavior of Megaponera analis among these species of ants. They describes this behavior in the journal Science Advances.

This behavior is not without its rationale though. Yet this sort of helping behavior has been seen for the first time among creatures without a backbone.

For social insects, like these African Matabele ants, the individual often has little to no value. Yet it pays to invest in each member of the ant colony and these ants may have built altruistic behavior as a defense mechanism along their line of evolution.

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