Ants nurse wounded warriors back to health
PARIS: African Matabele ants dress the wounds of comrades injured during hunting raids and nurse them back to health, according to an “astonishing” discovery reported Wednesday. After collecting their wounded from the battlefield and carrying them back home, nestmates become medics, massing around patients for “intense licking” of open wounds, according to a study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
This behavior reduces the fatality rate from about 80 percent of injured soldiers to a mere 10 percent, researchers observed. The study claimed to be the first to show such nursing behavior in any non-human animal. “This is not conducted through self-medication, as is known in many animals, but rather through treatment by nestmates which, through intense licking of the wound, are likely able to prevent an infection,” said study co-author Erik Frank.
He contributed to the research when he was at the Julius Maximilian University of Wuerzburg in Germany, and continues his work at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Frank had also taken part in a previous study, published last year, describing the ants’ battleground rescue behavior. The new research focused on what happens to the injured back in the nest. Matabeles, one of the world’s largest ant species, are fierce warriors and attack even humans with their ferocious bite. Named after Southern Africa’s feared Matabele warrior tribe, the insects hunt termites bigger than themselves, attacking their feeding sites in column formations of 200-600 individuals. This hunting method causes many ants to get hurt, often having their legs bitten off by termite soldiers.
A handout photo provided by the Royal Society on February 12, 2018 shows Megaponera ants investigating the injuries of another ant. —