Home / Technology / Termite-hunting ants in sub-Saharan Africa heal each other’s wounds by licking them, reducing mortality by 70 p.c, according to new analysis.

Termite-hunting ants in sub-Saharan Africa heal each other’s wounds by licking them, reducing mortality by 70 p.c, according to new analysis.

Termite-hunting ants in sub-Saharan Africa deal with each other’s wounds by licking them, according to new analysis. It would possibly sound icky — however the remedy if truth be told saves lives.

The ant, known as Megaponera analis, specializes in raiding termite nests. These hunts, then again, are bad: The ants can lose legs or antennas, and every so often they die. A find out about final yr confirmed that the ants rescue their injured buddies in the battlefield, taking them again to the nest. Now, researchers have proven what precisely occurs in the nest after the ones rescue operations. In hour-long periods, wholesome ants take turns licking the injured mate’s severed legs, treating the open wounds. And that reduces mortality by 70 p.c, perhaps by combating off infections, according to a find out about printed lately in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Many animals are recognized to self-medicate: Certain caterpillars feed on toxic crops to kill parasitic larvae rising within them, whilst parrots devour clay to do away with toxins that computer virus their stomachs. But when it comes to treating others, the proof isn't as cast. In bugs, “it’s completely unknown,” says lead writer Erik Frank, a post-doctoral researcher on the University of Lausanne. Today’s find out about “is the first example of this kind of behavior.” But, Frank warns, it doesn’t imply the ants are specifically clever or empathic. The ants have developed over tens of millions of years to deal with the injured, in order that the ones associates can recuperate, participate in raids once more, and stay functioning individuals of the colony — reaping rewards all the ants.

“These behaviors that seem to be incredibly complex have a very clear purpose,” Frank tells The Verge. “The ants don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Frank and his colleagues noticed wild colonies of M. analis ants in the Ivory Coast, portray a few of them with acrylic colours to simply observe them. The ants assault termite nests as frequently as 4 occasions an afternoon, marching in columns stretching up to 164 toes, or about so long as the Niagara Falls is tall. During those raids, some ants are injured, dropping legs or antennae, or are handicapped by termites that grasp to their our bodies. When that occurs, wholesome ants elevate the injured ones again to the nest — maximum of the days. Some critically injured ants — those who lose 5 legs out of six — are left at the back of to die, according to the find out about.


An injured ant is carried by a wholesome one.
Photo by Erik Frank

Frank came upon this by coincidence. One day, he by accident drove his automobile over one of the most ant columns. When he walked again to see the wear and tear he’d completed, he spotted that the wholesome ants had been serving to out best those who had misplaced one or two legs, ignoring the ants that had been in worse form. Frank then discovered that that triage device is regulated by the injured, no longer the helper. M. analis ants, in reality, liberate compounds known as pheromones to alert the wholesome associates to the desire for a rescue project. But when the ants have many severed limbs and will’t get up on their very own, they simply don’t emit the ones SOS alerts, Frank says. “From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense,” he says. Those ants are most certainly no longer going to recuperate, so that they’re no longer going to be helpful to the colony.

What’s extra, closely injured ants will actively sabotage efforts to rescue them. When Frank artificially lined those ants with pheromones, in order that they had been “forced” to ask for lend a hand, the injured didn't cooperate in the rescue missions. They saved flailing to make it unimaginable for the wholesome ants to elevate them. (After some time, the helpers were given pissed off, gave up, and left them at the back of.)


A critically injured ant does no longer cooperate in the rescue project.
Video by Erik Frank

When the fortunate ants had been introduced again to the nest, the paramedics were given to paintings. Using surveillance cameras that shoot in infrared gentle to see in the darkish, Frank discovered that 4 to 5 ants accumulate across the injured ant, and take turns licking the severed, wounded leg for 2 to 3 mins at a time. (Ants don’t in point of fact have “much of a tongue,” according to Penn State, however “finger-like appendages around the mouth.”) The remedy is helping the ill continue to exist: Only 10 p.c of ants whose wounds had been licked died inside 24 hours, in comparison with 80 p.c of those that didn’t obtain the remedy.

“These ants have a very complicated medical system, one could say,” Frank says. “That’s what amazes me the most, normally, just to see the complexity in these insects.”


An injured ant being handled.
Photo by Erik Frank

Next, Frank desires to know how precisely the remedy is helping the ants continue to exist. (Does it battle off an an infection, or does it save you the wound from getting inflamed in the primary position?) He’s additionally in discovering extra bugs that display equivalent behaviors.

The first time Frank noticed the ants on digicam licking the severed legs, he couldn’t consider his eyes. “We were filming with relatively bad-resolution cameras,” he says. So he went again to the colonies with higher-resolution cameras, after which showed what he had observed. He was once simply as surprised. “I am amazed when I see the complexity to which such simple organisms are able to go,” he says.

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