Ants Can Treat Their Injured Comrade’s Wounds

Ants Can Treat Their Injured Comrade’s Wounds

After sustaining a serious wound, seeking medical attention is a necessity. As humans we can expect our wounds to be closed by stitching, and antibiotic treatments can prevent infections and accelerate the healing process. You would certainly not expect a doctor to frantically lick your wound repeatedly upon visiting a hospital. Not only would such a response be insane, but this absurd behavior would only transmit more germs to a wound. However, wounded ants seem to benefit from the saliva of their fellow colony members. Matabele ants are known for being one of the most aggressive and warlike of all ant species. These ants will raid other ant colonies as well as termite colonies. Matabele ants rarely lose the battles that they wage on their enemies. For decades researchers have known that Matabele ants are superior fighters, but the reasons for their edge on the battlefield has never been explained. Now researchers believe that injured Matabele ants often recover when they would otherwise die thanks to their comrades who lick them back to health. Researchers believe that these ants possess antimicrobial substances within their saliva that prevent infections and contribute to accelerated wound-healing.

After Matabele ants raid nearby insect nests, many return home with severe wounds. Some ants are missing multiple limbs, while others sustain less serious, but still life-threatening wounds. Luckily, Matabele ants have something similar to medics. Matabele ants that are injured in war recover ninety percent of the time, but only if their wounds are licked by other ants. However, injured ants that are not treated with their comrades saliva only recover one out of five times. Scientists are not yet certain as to why this licking process heals wounds, but it has been theorized that ant saliva contains antimicrobial properties. Different wounds require different amounts of licking. Sometimes a wounded ant will need to be licked for a few minutes, but others require a full hour of non-stop licking in order to recover from their wounds. The saliva probably prevents ant wounds from becoming infected by different forms of bacteria. While on the battlefield, some ants sustain wounds that are too significant to be helped by licking. In these cases, the wounded ants will thrash their bodies about in an effort to fend off help from other ants that are prepared to lick them. These ants seem to know that their wounds are terminal, and therefore medical attention should not be wasted on them. Ants that are missing most of their limbs can be found indulging in this selfless behavior.

Have you ever heard about insects demonstrating another type of seemingly altruistic behavior?


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