During their wars against termites, ants save their wounded

In the southern Sahara, African Matabélé ants (Megaponera Analis) are predators specialized in termite hunting. But when the hour of war strikes, some soldiers get hurt. “Sisters in arms” then bring the invalids back to the shelter to enable them to dress their wounds.

In the animal kingdom, treating the wounded is not common, but it is an undeniable evolutionary advantage, especially for the colony where survival depends on the number of its occupants. In the south of the Sahara, the African Matabélé ants (Megaponera Analis) understood the maneuver. Two to four times a day, these extraordinary predators go on the hunt and very often, it is the termites that toast.

Columns of 200 to 500 individuals then form to attack termite mounds sometimes located more than fifty meters away. One then sends the scouts who flush out the adversary. The charge is launched and the attack is carried out smoothly: some pierce the lines to recover the loot, but this type of invasion is not without risks and some ants then find themselves trampled on the battlefield. Because of this, they developed behavior that was previously unknown in insects.

Indeed, when an ant finds itself injured in combat, it “calls for help” to its companions by secreting chemical substances. The strongest then bring the invalids back to the shelter to enable them to dress their wounds. Generally, the treatment involves removing any termites that are still clinging to the ant. This behavior, highlighted by a team of German researchers from the University of Würzburg, is detailed in the journal Science Advances.

 » This is the first time we have observed this helping behavior towards injured conspecifics in invertebrates. “, explains the biologist Erik Frank who participated in the study. It is therefore an unexpected finding, especially for social insects where individuals are generally of little value. But obviously, the strategy pays off for the colony. Among ants, we play it collectively.


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