Findings reported by The Royal Society have brought to light a strange new behavior exhibited by fierce warrior ants. The African Matabele ants were the observed ant species who set out from their nests to attack nearby termite infested feeding sites. In the raids and battles that ensued not all ants made it alive back. Some were severely injured with limbs torn and bitten off by the powerful termite jaws. It was seen that the wounded ants received a very human-like treatment- medic aid.
The ant medic-aid:
It isn’t like your usual ‘go to the doctor and get dressed’ kind of aid. The wounded would be carried back to the nest by medic ants who would then proceed to lick the wounds of the warriors. This licking can last from anywhere between ten minutes to one hour depending on the severity of the wound.
“We suppose that they do this to clean the wounds and maybe even apply antimicrobial substances with their saliva to reduce the risk of bacterial or fungal infection,” Erik T. Frank, one of the team members explains. Myrmecologists, or ant scientists, observed that 90 percent of the wounded and licked ants were saved from perishing.
This kind of medic aid is unique to the non-human world but it isn’t the only unique attribute of the ant community. Last year a team reported that ants had life-saving instincts for their fellow, wounded soldiers. During a raid, the wounded ants were carried back by healthy ants to be saved. It was also observed that the ants more severely wounded would thrash around to avoid being saved.
“In humans in cases where a triage system is necessary, the decision [about] who will receive help is made by the doctor: a top-down regulated system,” Frank told while presenting the report, “In the ants, it’s exactly the opposite.”
When ants become wounded they secrete a chemical substance which attracts their fellow warrior ants to come to their rescue. Being rescued is an entirely personal decision for the wounded ant and if it does not want to be saved it will resist any attempt on its fellow’s behalf.
The ant community:
“One of the fascinating things about ant society is you can get very complex and sophisticated behavior without any need of cognition or knowledge of what you are doing,” Frank told The Guardian. This inclination of carrying their wounded back to the nest and licking them back to health gives ants an edge in the battlefield over any other insect species.
This is the first time ant community has banded together for acquiring means to an end- usually survival. The question which begs to be asked at this point is whether ants are doing so based on emotional awareness or because it is a natural instinct? Scientists believe that it is too early at this point to assume that ants are emotionally aware of a deeper understanding of their actions.