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Ant selectively amputates infected limbs of wounded nestmates

Jul. 02, 2024.
2 min. read Interactions

Surgery to save lives is no longer exclusive to humans

About the writer

Amara Angelica

198.01421 MPXR

Electronics engineer/inventor

Woundcare and amputation in C. maculatus ant (credit: Danny Buffat)

Scientists have found that Florida carpenter ants selectively treat the wounded limbs of fellow nestmates by either wound cleaning or amputation to aid in recovery—based on the injury.

“When we’re talking about amputation behavior, this is literally the only case in which a sophisticated and systematic amputation of an individual by another member of its species occurs in the animal Kingdom,” says first author Erik Frank (@ETF1989), a behavioral ecologist from the University of Würzburg In a study published July 2 in the journal Current Biology.

Assessing the type of injury to choose treatment

In a paper published in 2023, it was discovered that a different group of ants, Megaponera analis, use a special gland to inoculate injuries with antimicrobial compounds meant to quell possible infections. But what makes Florida carpenter ants (Camponotus floridanus) stand out is that because they have no such gland; they appear to be using only mechanical means to treat their nestmates.

The researchers found that this mechanical care involves one of two routes: perform wound cleaning with just their mouthparts or perform a cleaning followed by the full amputation of the leg. To select which route they take, the ants appear to assess the type of injury to make informed adjustments on how best to treat.

“The fact that the ants are able to diagnose a wound, see if it’s infected or sterile, and treat it accordingly over long periods of time by other individuals—the only medical system that can rival that would be the human one,” Frank says.

So how are these ants capable of such precise care?

“When you look at the videos where you have the ant presenting the injured leg and letting the other one bite off completely voluntarily, and then present the newly made wound so another one can finish cleaning process—this level of innate cooperation to me is quite striking,”

Citation: Frank et al. July 02, 2024. Wound-dependent leg amputations to combat infections in an ant society. Current Biology (open access)

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