When Ants Go To War They Bring The Medics

Samuel Reason | February 19th, 2018

A species of aggressive Viking-like raiding ants actually save their wounded and then stitch them up. Yes, it appears they have dedicated doctor and nurse ants ready to save the wounded.

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And the incredible thing is researchers have determined that this strange behavior actually gives the injured ant a 90% survival rate. So should we all be going to the ant hospital when injured then? Probably not, unless you feel a good licking will save you from your injuries.

For some time it was known that this particular species of sub-Saharan ants did bring their wounded back to their nest. But as their nests were always underground, scientists had no idea what they were doing. However, researchers now know that the injured ants are brought back from the battlefield in hopes of patching up their wounds.

Megaponera Analis or as we know them “War Ants”, are very skilled raiders. Think of them as the Vikings of the ant world. They regularly send a column of ants into termite nests, dragging termites out for food. War always comes at a cost: many ants get their limbs crushed or some termites just latch onto them refusing to let go. How do they get home then? Well if the ant is not too severely injured, he will curl up into a ball and let another ant carry him home.

The basic thought process is: if you can stand up then there is still a use for you in the colony. How do they nurse injured ants back to health then? With infrared cameras, the research team was able to determine that it appears the injured ants will be licked by a colleague. But how does this help?

No one is really sure, but the most likely theory is that this process must stop the ant’s wounds from becoming infected. It is believed this is the case because an ant that received the treatment only had a 10% chance of dying within the next 24 hours, but ones that did not get the treatment died 80% of the time.

So why do these ants save their colleagues? We are always taught that there are thousands of ants everywhere, surely they are easily replaced in the colony? But this is not the case for the “War Ants” who only see a dozen of baby ants born each day. This means anything they can do to reduce their mortality rate greatly increases the strength of the colony.

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