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Ants Rescue Comrades Injured In Battle: New Study Reveals

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Ants are social creatures and live in a community, which are akin to human settlements. These insects are known to perform tasks together and if a new research is to be believed, then their similarities with humans does not end there.

A study reveals that much like human soldiers, ants too help fallen or injured members during a battle and carry them back to safety.

How Was The Study Conducted?

A team of researchers undertook the study at the University of Würzburg's Biocenter and mainly focused on the species Megaponera analis, commonly known as the Matabele ants. This species is found in sub-Saharan Africa.

The scientists observed the ants in Comoé National Park over a span of two years. During this period, they were able to track 52 Matabele ant colonies. The researchers noted that in this period, the ants from all the colonies collectively raided 420 termite nests.

How An Ant-Termite Battle Occurs

The researchers state that a raid usually begins with a single ant scouting out termite nests, looking for a weakness which can be exploited. Once the scout finds what it is looking for, it goes back to its nest and gathers an army of around 200 to 500 ants.

This army then marches toward the termite nest in a column-like formation. Once near the site, the larger ants start digging through the loose soil around the nest. In the meantime, the smaller ants slip inside the nest and start battling and killing the termites. These termites are then brought out from the hole and transported to the ants' nest for consumption.

Scientists revealed that these battles are brutal with several injuries and deaths occurring on both sides. The termites severely wound the ants and sometimes even dismember their limbs and heads. After the battle is over, the remaining ant army starts to search for fallen and injured comrades. These ants are carried back to the nest.

Ants are blind but have a very strong sense of smell. The injured ants release a chemical substance through which rescuers can locate them and carry them back to the nest. Here the wounded ant can recoup post treatment. This "therapy" involves the removal of the termite, which is clinging onto the wounded ant.

The researchers analyzed the SOS chemical ants send out and revealed that it was a mixture of dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl trisulfide.

Why Ants Rescue Injured Comrades

All injured ants are carried back to the nest except for those with a fatal injury. The researchers were interested to learn more about why the ants decided to carry the injured comrades back to the nest.

Therefore, in a bid to learn the reason, they placed an injured ant in front of an army, which was marching toward a battle. However, to their surprise, the ants did not pay any attention to the injured comrade in that instance.

However, when an injured ant was introduced while they were returning from battle, the other ants quickly picked it up and carried it back to the nest. This behavior suggested that the ants do not rescue others because of empathy. They may instead be doing so for the overall benefit of the species and to maintain a stronger number in the army.

This may be one of the major differences between human and ant rescues during a battle, according to the scientists.

"The ants do not help the injured out of the goodness of their hearts. There is a clear benefit for the colony: these injured ants are able to participate again in future raids and remain a functioning member of the colony," noted Erik Frank, lead author of the study.

The results of the study have been published in journal Science Advances.   

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