African Ants Rescue Their Injured and Carry Them to Safety

Ants and their prey

A sub-Saharan species of ants rescues their injured and carries them to the nest

A research performed by scientists from the University of Würzburg, Germany discovered a peculiar behavior among a species of ants from sub-Saharan Africa. The African Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) do not leave their injured behind, and carry them back to a safe place to recover.

An atypical behavior for ants

This species of ants engages in hunting activities from two to four times a day. Their prey is represented by termites, but it is no easy job. As any hunting activity, this also leads to some unwanted outcomes and some of the ants get injured in the process.

The termites refuse to give up so easily, and fight for their lives. Thus, when they attack termite nests, many ants get wounded and some of them do not even survive. This is where the researchers observed a phenomenon which was never seen in other insect species.

The ants refuse to leave behind their wounded mates, so they carefully pick them up and carry them to a safe place, away from the dangerous termite nests. There, they can rest and recover so that they might return to their daily hunting activities.

How do the ants find their injured brothers?

Injured ants have a special way of signaling that they have been hurt. They secrete certain substances which alert their other mates that they need help. The other ants follow this trace until they find the one in need, then carry it to their nest.

There, the ant can receive all the treatment it needs so that it might recover. This might sound sophisticated, but it is actually very simple. The other ants remove the termites clinging to the body of the wounded ant.

Ants prefer hunting the worker termites, which do not fight so much. However, these are protected by some “soldiers” which have strong jaws to protect themselves and the workers. This is why ants have to work together to defeat their prey and return home unharmed.

This social behavior is atypical for insects, especially for a species like ants. These insects work together as one and the specimens are not valued as individuals. However, the researchers suggest that these rescues are a service brought to the entire ant community.

Researchers succeeded in finding the first example of such a behavior in an invertebrate species. They published their findings in the journal Science Advances and it can be found here.
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