African Matabele ants observed carrying injured comrades from the battlefield

Watch: How Matabele Ants Help Wounded Comrades Survive By Licking Them

A unique species of soldier ant braves the battlefield to rescue stricken comrades, scientists have found.

Not a heroic scene from the second world war, but the daily grind for African Matabele ants, which leave their nests in the hundreds to launch raids on feeding termites - and risk life and limb in the process.

"This is the first real, quantitative, scientific study in that sense, which really quantifies the value of that behaviour", he said. Researchers published their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Dr Frank began observing Matabele ants while working in Africa. "When they had fights against termites, some of the ants got injured". The injured ants play the patient role to the hilt by remaining immobile for a long duration.

"The ants were selective in who they picked up", says Frank.

Once they have been hauled back to the nest, the comrades carrying them proceed to lick their wounds.

"I do feel that it has some parallels with military medics", he said.

Frank said it's possible that other ant species also exhibit the same behaviors.

"They were able to reduce the mortality rate by roughly 30 per cent".

"What we show, for first time in the animal kingdom, is a proper treatment focused on a wound", said Erik Frank, a behavioural ecologist at the University of Wurzburg. "But we didn't know what was going on inside the nest", he said.

During their observations, the researchers noticed how soldier ants "licked" the wounds of other injured ants, which would last for several minutes. Researchers also believe that if they can't stand up, they can't release the rescue-signal chemical.

Interestingly, the decision on which ant will live and which one will die is made by the wounded ant itself. There, scientists captured remarkable footage of ants caring for others with missing limbs.

A species of ant has become the first known non-human animal to tend the wounds of its fellows.

"This behaviour seems to be vital to prevent an infection of the wound, and for the survival of the injured ant". Frank showed that coating dead ants in pheromone summoned helpers, but the ants soon moved on when their fallen comrades failed to tuck into the right position.

"It could be just a prophylactic treatment". The individual ant does not know why it treats the injured (to prevent an infection), or why the heavily injured ant does not call for help (because it would not be of use in the future).

These same ants, a species called Megaponera analis, were observed past year bringing their injured back to the nest, but no one knew what happened to the wounded ants after that, said study leader Erik Frank, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

He said the insects appeared to have some sort of "triage" system, where ants decided in the field which individuals were able to be saved.

Related:

Comments

Latest news

Zarif to attend Iraq reconstruction conference
On Wednesday, the final day of the conference, the main donation pledges are expected to be made from roughly 70 countries. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is in Kuwait to participate in the conference which comes to an end today.

Ubisoft Strikes Gold Thanks to Assassin's Creed, Ghost Recon Wildlands
As we reported past year , Discovery Tour takes players on a guided tour through various aspects of Ancient Egyptian life. Instead we're seeing a dramatic rise in the number of long-term service games - also known as games as a service (GaaS).

Norwegian outlines 'full commitment' to British market
The UK will be at the heart of our continued global expansion and we remain fully committed to the market. The UK's first ever budget airline flight to South America takes off from West Sussex on Wednesday.

Cancer-fighting nanorobots can seek, destroy tumours
While they're still experimental and haven't been tested in humans, these nanorobots show a lot of promise for treating cancer. Arizona State University and NCNST collaborators are actively pursuing clinical partners to further develop their technology.

Notre Dame's appeal denied; NCAA upholds decision to vacate 21 football wins
In the letter , Jenkins said Notre Dame is "deeply disappointed" by the NCAA's denial. The NCAA's findings do not affect Alabama's title from that season.

Other news