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Scientists have just made an astonishing discovery about ants, and one they werent exactly expecting to find. The study, published in the journal Science Advances, claims that ants actually rescue their fallen comrades.
And this behavior provides a tremendous benefit to the colony, as without the fallen ants, the colony sizes would be a third smaller because injured ants die if they arent helped home, according to a statement from the University of Wurzburg.
Researchers came to this conclusion by studying hunting ants in Africa who raid termite nests. The Megaponera analis ants live in sub-Saharan African, and multiple times per day up to 500 ants will attack a termite nest. The ants carry the dead termites back to the nest for feeding. These fierce battles often lead to casualties for the ants, though, prompting this fascinating behavior.
The full statement follows below.
The African Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) are widespread south of the Sahara and are a specialised termite predator. Two to four times a day, the ants set out to hunt prey. Proceeding in long files, they raid termites at their foraging sites, killing many workers and hauling the prey back to their nest.
These attacks, however, are met with resistance and the ants get involved in fights with termites of the soldier caste. Injury and mortality can occur during such combats, as the soldiers are very adept at using their powerful jaws to fend off the attackers.
So the invasions bear an increased risk of injury. For this reason, the ants have developed a rescue behaviour hitherto unknown in insects:
Chemical signal triggers rescue
When an ant is injured in a fight, it will call its mates for help by excreting chemical substances. The injured insect is then carried back to the nest where it can recover after receiving treatment. What is the therapy like? Usually, treatment involves removing the termites still clinging to the ant.
A german research team of the University of Wrzburgs Biocentre has discovered this rescue behaviour of Megaponera analis and describes it in the journal Science Advances. Erik Frank, Thomas Schmitt, Thomas Hovestadt, Oliver Mitesser, Jonas Stiegler, and Karl Eduard Linsenmair, all from the Chair of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, have participated in the research.
Rescuing the injured pays off
We have observed helping behaviour vis–vis injured animals for the first time in invertebrates, says Ph.D. student Erik Frank. This was an unexpected finding, especially for social insects, where individuals are usually of little value. But obviously, it pays off for the colony as a whole to invest in the rescue service as the researchers demonstrate in their publication.
Heres what Wikipedia says about this species, in part.
Megaponera analis is the sole species of the genus Megaponera. They are a strictly termite-eating (termitophagous) ponerine ant species widely distributed in Sub-Saharan Africa and most commonly known for their column-like raiding formation when attacking termite feeding sites. Their sophisticated raiding behaviour gave them the common name Matabele ant after the Matabele tribe, fierce warriors who overwhelmed various other tribes during the 1800s. At nearly 20 millimetres (0.79 in) in length, M. analis is one of the worlds largest ants.
Megaponera is a genus of ponerine ant first defined by Gustav Mayr in 1862 for Formica analis (Latreille, 1802), the sole species belonging to the genus to date. In 1994 William L. Brown, Jr. synonymised the genus under Pachycondyla even though he lacked phylogenetic justification, thereby changing the name from Megaponera foetens to Pachycondyla analis. In 2014 Schmidt and Shattuck revived Megaponera back to full genus status due to both molecular and morphological evidence. Since foetens was just a specific epithet incorrectly used throughout the literature the new name for the species as of June 2014 is Megaponera analis.
The size of worker ants varies between 518 millimetres (0.200.71 in), with larger workers making up to 50 percent of the colony. Though it was often suggested that the larger ants also function as gamergates, they were never observed laying fertile eggs, a function solely reserved to the ergatoid queen. Even though M. analis is often referred to as dimorphic, with a major and minor caste, they actually exhibit polyphasic allometry[clarification needed] in worker sizes. The variations among the ants are mostly in size and pubescence (with minors having less), although differences in the mandibles have also been observed, with minors having smoother mandibles compared to majors.
The rest is here:
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