The African Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) are likely to the injuries of their injured comrades. And they accomplish that somewhat efficiently: Without such attendance, 80 p.c of the injured ants die; after receiving “medical” therapy, solely 10 p.c succumb to their accidents.
Erik T. Frank, Marten Wehrhan and Karl Eduard Linsenmair from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany, made this astonishing discovery. Their outcomes have been printed within the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. No different bugs are identified to decorate the injuries of their comrades. The JMU biologists even imagine that such behaviour is exclusive in the complete animal kingdom.
Ants go on high-risk raids
Matabele ants have a excessive threat of getting injured every single day: The bugs, that are broadly distributed in Sub-Saharan Africa, got down to raid termites two to 4 instances a day. Proceeding in lengthy recordsdata of 200 to 600 animals, they raid termites at their foraging websites, killing many employees and hauling the prey again to their nest the place they’re finally eaten.
However, the ants meet fierce resistance from the well-armoured termite troopers which can be very adept at utilizing their highly effective jaws to fend off the attackers. Injury and mortality among the many ants happen throughout such combats. For instance, the ants continuously lose limbs which can be bitten off by termite troopers. When an ant is injured in a struggle, it calls its mates for assist by excreting a chemical substance which makes them carry their injured comrade again to the nest. Erik T. Frank already described this rescue service in 2017.
But the Würzburg biologists dug deeper: What occurs as soon as the injured ants are again within the nest? The ants deal with the open wounds of their injured fellows by “licking” them intensively, typically for a number of minutes. “We suppose that they do this to clean the wounds and maybe even apply antimicrobial substances with their saliva to reduce the risk of bacterial or fungal infection,” Frank explains.
Severely injured ants are left behind on the battlefield
The crew from the JMU Biocentre uncovered extra thrilling particulars in regards to the emergency rescue service of the Matabele ants. Badly injured ants lacking 5 of their six legs, for instance, get no assistance on the battleground. The resolution who’s saved and who’s left behind is made not by the rescuers however by the injured ants themselves.
Slightly injured ants preserve nonetheless and even pull of their remaining limbs to facilitate transport. Their badly injured counterparts in distinction wrestle and lash out wildly. “They simply don’t cooperate with the helpers and are left behind as a result,” Frank says. So the hopeless circumstances be sure that no vitality is invested in rescuing them.
Slightly injured ants preserve nonetheless
When Matabele ants are solely barely injured, they transfer far more slowly than regular as soon as potential helpers are close to. This behaviour in all probability will increase their probabilities of being observed by the opposite ants dashing again to the nest in a column. Or it could be that ants can localize the “save-me-substance” extra simply in resting ants.
More questions come up
The new insights give rise to new questions: How do ants acknowledge the place precisely a mate was injured? How do they know when to cease dressing the injuries? Is therapy purely preventive or additionally therapeutic, after an an infection has occurred?
Erik T. Frank will proceed to deal with these and different questions on the University of Lausanne in Switzerland the place he has been doing postdoc analysis since February 2018. He lately accomplished his doctoral thesis at JMU.