Ant Amputations: Florida Ants Perform Life-Saving Surgeries on Injured Nestmates

MIAMI, FL – Researchers in the southeastern United States have uncovered a remarkable behavior among a species of ants that involves performing amputations to save the lives of their injured nestmates. This discovery sheds light on the intricate ways in which these insects care for one another in the face of perilous situations. The study, led by behavioral ecologist Erik Frank from the University of Würzburg, revealed that Florida carpenter ants exhibit a high level of sophistication in their response to injured comrades, comparable to strategies seen in human medical systems.

Published in the journal Current Biology, the study showcases the ants’ ability to differentiate between types of wounds and adapt their healing responses accordingly. Unlike some other ant species, Florida carpenter ants lack the ability to produce antimicrobial secretions from their glands for wound care. The researchers deliberately injured around 100 ants on their legs to observe how their colony members would respond to different types of injuries.

Interestingly, the ants were found to effectively perform amputations when nestmates had femur injuries, but not when the injuries were on the tibia. The amputation process, which lasted around 40 minutes, involved a sequence of licking and biting by the assisting ant until the injured ant’s entire leg was severed. The amputations proved to significantly increase the survival rate of the injured ants, showcasing the efficiency and success of this unique strategy within the ant colony.

While femur injuries resulted in amputations, tibia injuries prompted extended wound care sessions involving extensive licking but no amputations. The researchers theorize that the decision to amputate may be linked to how hemolymph, a fluid similar to blood in invertebrates, flows within the ants’ bodies. Scans revealed that the tibia area has greater hemolymph flow compared to the femur area, suggesting a faster spread of pathogens that could lead to infection.

The meticulous efforts displayed by the ants in caring for each other highlight the benefits of altruistic behavior within social insect colonies. By helping injured nestmates, the ants indirectly aid the survival and productivity of their own colony. This study underscores the value of individual members within ant societies, emphasizing the importance of cooperation and collective well-being. The findings offer valuable insights into the remarkable ways in which ants have evolved to care for one another, showcasing the complex and fascinating nature of social insect behavior.