Monday, 17 April 2017

No Ant Left Behind: Ants will rescue wounded colony mates

April 13, 2017

by Chuck Bednar

The phrase “army ant” has been used to describe multiple species of these social insects, and based on the behavior of the Megaponera analis, it isn’t difficult to see why – these well-trained warriors are committed to ensuring that no man gets left behind, according to a new study.

As Erik Frank, a doctoral student at the University of Würzburg in Germany, and his colleagues reported this week in the journal Science Advances, hundreds of these large, black, termite-eating ants (which are native to sub-Saharan Africa) march into formation when hunting for food.

A total of 200 to 500 ants travel together in rows of three in a two-meter long column that “looks like a long snake walking on the ground,” Frank told NPR on Wednesday. “And after roughly 20 minutes the battle is over... and the ants start collecting the termites to return.”

However, he said that a few years ago, he first noticed that some of the ants returning home after engaging in combat were carrying other ants instead of termites. Curious as to what the ants were doing, he investigated further, and found that the ants were rescuing their injured colleagues.

“This is not an altruistic behavior. The ants do not help the injured out of the goodness of their hearts,” Frank explained to Reuters. “There is a clear benefit for the colony: these injured ants are able to participate again in future raids and remain a functioning member of the colony.”

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