Africa’s Matabele ants rescue their wounded soldiers who have fallen in battld and bring them back to the nest where they are “treated,” study showed.
This helping behavior for the injured is the first to be detected in the insect world, according to an article in the US journal Science Advances by a German research team at the University of Wuerzburg’s Biocentre.
The ants, formally known as Megaponera analis, are widespread south of the Sahara on the African continent.
These ants, Megaponera analis, hunt and eat termites. Scouts will go out, find a group of worker termites, and then return to the ant nest to muster the troops.
When the termites spot this invading army, they try to escape, but the fighting is fierce, the attacks meet strong resistance from soldier termites guarding the worker termites, which have powerful jaws that kill and wound the Matabele ants in the fighting.
Apparently to minimize their losses from these attacks, the ants have developed a rescue behavior until now were unknown among insects.
When a Matabele ant is hurt in a fight, it calls its mates for help by excreting chemical substances in a kind of distress signal.
The injured ant will then be carried back to the nest where it will receive “treatment” that usually involves peeling off the termites still clinging to the insect, the authors said in a statement.
By marking these injured ants with paint, Frank learned that in nearly all cases, they made a full recovery after being carried home to recuperate. They learn to walk with fewer legs, and their ant buddies apparently will pull off stuck termites. It doesn’t take long for an ant that’s been hurt to once again be ready for action.
“We have observed helping behavior vis-a-vis injured animals for the first time in invertebrates,” said co-author Erik Frank.
Typically, individuals have little value for social insects, he noted.
But in the case of Matabele ants, “obviously, it pays off for the colony as a whole to invest in the rescue service,” the researchers said.