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An ant species in Africa that hunts and eats termites rescues and care for those ants that are injured in the hunt. This, according to a new study by German and Swiss researchers.

Africa’s Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) go into harm’s way to save nest-mates injured on the field of battle. Those ants that are damaged calls for assistance with a special chemical signal, pheromones, from a particular gland. Their companions then lick their wounds, something that will probably help prevent infections.

According to researchers, this caring behavior can reduce mortality among injured individuals from 80 percent down to 10 percent.

“It’s not about self-medication, which is known for many animals, but rather a treatment from peers who, through intense slimming of the wound, is likely to prevent an infection,”

– Ph.D. student Erik Frank

Frank is one of the researchers behind the study conducted at Julius Maximilian University in Germany and Lausanne University in Switzerland.

The study shows that most of the treated ants — 90%—survived for 24 hours, but only 20% survived if researchers prevented them from being groomed by nest-mates.

It’s not clear what the grooming does exactly, but the researchers think the ants clear away dirt and apply antimicrobial chemicals to the wounds to guard against infection.

The article is published in the journal The Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


Erik Thomas Frank*, Thomas Schmitt et al. Saving the injured: Rescue behavior in the termite-hunting ant Megaponera analis DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602187