The Power of Paramedic Ants

Ants are a communal insect that has their strength in their numbers. After they find food, possibly battle for it, there can be many battle wounds along the way. It has been found in African Matabele ants, which leave their home base in masses to attack termite nests for food. Many ants loose limbs and even their lives during the process. Yet, an interesting discovery has shed some light on how the group manages to recover from the war of food.

 

Paramedic Ants

When Matabele ants feed attack termites, they do it in groups up to 600 ants. The larger ants break through the natural environment while the smaller ants attack their targets and bring the dead termites back to the ant’s nest. Research has found that ants have the ability to not only pick up their fellow comrades after injury and take them back to home base, but they also have antibiotic saliva to help heal any wounds.

Field experiments conducted in the humid savannah woodland at Comoé National Park, Ivory Coast, scientists found that returning ants carried any ant with one or two injured limbs back to the base. Yet, if the injuries were too extensive, they were left to die. The researchers moved six different ant nests into artificial ones and recorded footage of their behaviors.

“We don’t know if they are just removing dirt from the wound or applying an antimicrobial substance to fight off an infection. But we do know that if they don’t receive the treatment, 80% die within 24 hours. If you allow the treatment for an hour, the ants survive,” said Erik Frank, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Wurzburg.

The ants in distress from the injury communicate to the other ants through pheromones. Once the paramedic ants come to the rescue, the injured ants tuck in the legs to allow a smooth transport back to their nest. Frank also attempted to create an artificial rescue by coating an ant in pheromones. The ants came to the rescue but promptly abandoned the mission when the “suffering” and failed to position its legs for proper transport.

This fascinating aspect of ant society is quite complex and sophisticated behavior. Biological advances like this can open many doors in the knowledge of animal behavior and science itself.

Pythons Invading Florida: How Science is Fighting Back

Alexander-Lakhanpal-plastic

Florida is known for their Everglades being homes to large gators, pesky mosquitos and now 15-feet long pythons. The Burmese Pythons are not native to Florida but have populated enough to negatively influence the natural food cycle of the Everglades and become a threat to humans. These invasive snakes are big, hidden, and reproduce in large amounts. Researchers and scientists are studying not only their influence on the food chain but also how to get rid of this species from the area.

 

The Invasion

The reasons for this quick increase of pythons are quite simple. Not only South Florida the perfect wet, mammal-rich environment for snakes to thrive, these snakes are egg-producing machines. One single female can lay over 50 eggs. The population of pythons has increased so much that the state has created programs that allow for rewards for the successful elimination and capturing of pythons. Many of the pythons being captured through this program are spanning over 10 feet long and are becoming so large that they have the ability to consume a grown adult. These snakes have the ability to grow to over 20 feet long and could consume a human in minutes.

 

The Food Chain

One of the other negative impacts of the increasing presence of pythons is their influence on the availability of food in the Everglades. Pythons eat many sized mammals from small rats to large deer and anything in between. These snakes are now clearing out many of the food sources for other animals and insects, especially mosquitos.

Prior to the arrival of pythons, hispid cotton rats were about 15 percent of the mosquitoes’ diet. Mosquitos also preyed on raccoons, opossums, and deer. Due to pythons taking a bite out of the other animals’ populations, mosquitos are left to only rats. Their diet now is made up of three-quarters rat. The negative to mosquitoes feeding off of rats more means there is an increase of them spreading the Everglades virus, which is common among rats of the Everglades. Nathan Burkett-Cadena, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of entomology has stated, “As far as I am aware, this is the first time that researchers have found that an invasive predator (such as the python) has caused an increase in contact between mosquitoes and hosts of a human pathogen,”.