Video: Researchers observe ‘paramedic’ ants treating their injured

Scientists said the African Matabele ants have been observed rescuing their injured comrades, cleaning their wounds and maybe even administering antibiotics


By EMS1 Staff

IVORY COAST, Africa —Researchers observed a species of insect that has its very own first responders who treat their comrades after raids on termites.

The Guardian reported that African Matabele ants, which often become injured while launching raids on termites they hunt for food, are cared for by “paramedic” ants that clean their wounds, carry them home and maybe even administer antibiotics.

“What we show, for first time in the animal kingdom, is a proper treatment focused on a wound,” University of Wurzburg behavioral ecologist Erik Frank said. “We have anecdotal observations of wound care in other animals, but none that have been studied scientifically.”

The ants send scouts to find termites feeding on dead plant matter, and when they are spotted, a 600-member raiding party is organized to attack the termites and take them home to eat.

Scientists observed over 200 of these raids and found that the ants that lost one or two legs in the process were carried home and cared for.

“We don’t know if they are just removing dirt from the wound or applying an antimicrobial substance to fight off an infection. But we do know that if they don’t receive the treatment, 80 percent die within 24 hours. If you allow the treatment for an hour, the ants survive,” Frank said.

The scientists found that the injured ants send out a distress call in the form of pheromones, and tuck their legs in when the “paramedic” ants arrive so they can be easily carried.

The most severely injured ants, however, are left behind.

“Heavily injured ants cannot get up again, they keep thrashing around, ignoring everything around them,” Frank said. “It’s very simple, but it enables the ants to triage the injured. If you can stand up you are still useful.”

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