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.