Ants treat each other's wounds and even perform “surgeries”

Ants can be called one of the most social insects. They have never ceased to amaze scientists with their social organization and abilities for many years. This time, the researchers came to the attention of carpenter ants living in Florida, USA. They got their name because of the unusual structure of the nest. These insects do not make the usual anthills, but build nests in wood, literally cutting passages in it with their jaws. Moreover, they desperately defend their nests from other ants, so they often receive various injuries in battles. In a recent study, scientists discovered that they do not leave wounded relatives to die, but provide them with medical care, including “surgical.”

Ants treat each other's wounds and even perform “surgeries”. Carpenter ants know how to heal their comrades. Photo source: Photo.

Carpenter ants can heal their comrades. Photo source:

How ants heal each other

For the first time, scientists discovered that ants are able to provide medical assistance to each other in 2023. Then a team of researchers observing the African ants Megaponera analis noticed that the insects treat the infected wounds of their relatives with the help of an antiseptic substance that they themselves produce in their glands.

Florida carpenter ants do not have such glands, so scientists wanted to find out how they provide medical care to their fellow humans without antiseptic. In the study, the authors looked at two types of wounds on the ants' legs—lacerations on the thigh and wounds lower down on the “tibia.”

How ants heal each other. Ants amputate the injured limbs of their fellows. Photo source: Photo.

Ants amputate the injured limbs of their fellows. Photo source:

As it turned out, to treat lacerations on the thigh, the ants first clean it with their mouth and then amputate the limb by biting it repeatedly. Moreover, the procedure is carried out very carefully, as a result of which the ants have to spend about 40 minutes to remove the leg. If ants need to heal a wound on the tibia, they simply clean it.

Is ant “medicine” effective

Given all of the above, the main question arises — How effective is ant “medicine”? Does it really help them survive serious injuries? As reported in a study published in the journal Current Biology, operations significantly increase the survival rate of individuals.

For example, survival rates for hip injuries without surgery are less than 40%. Surgical intervention increases this figure to 90-95%. Without cleaning the “tibia” wounds, the survival rate of ants does not exceed 15%. After cleaning the wounds, up to 75% of ants survive.

Is ant “medicine” effective? This is how amputation of a limb occurs. Photo source: Photo.

This is how a limb is amputated. Photo source:

Interestingly, ants differentiate between types of injuries and use different strategies to treat them. According to the researchers, ants amputate the leg only with a hip injury, but not with other wounds. And there is a logical explanation for this. By studying micro-CT scans of the ants, the authors found that damage to the muscles in the femur that pump hemolymph (the equivalent of blood) slows blood circulation. This gives the ants enough time to amputate the limb before the infected hemolymph spreads throughout the body.

The ants’ “legs” have little muscle tissue, so infections can spread faster. That is, while the ants amputate the limb, the infection will have time to spread, which means there is no point in amputation. Therefore, insects focus only on cleaning wounds.

How ants learned to heal wounds

As the researchers themselves say, ants are able to diagnose a wound, determine whether it is dirty or not, and treat it in the most effective way available to them. This “medical system” can only be rivaled by human medicine. True, these ants are not the only species, besides humans, that can heal wounds. Previously, we told you that monkeys make «plasters» from insects, and also use medicinal plants.

«Medical care» greatly increases the survival rate of wounded ants. Photo source:

The study also says that ants do not learn “medical” abilities. That is, they have them from birth. At least the researchers found no evidence of learning. This means that the ability to treat their fellow insects has developed during evolution.

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Now researchers want to study other species of ants that also lack antimicrobial glands. It is quite possible that many of them also know how to perform surgical operations. Finally, let us remind you that previously scientists already knew that a certain type of ant can heal trees — they eliminate damage to trunks. By following the link you can find out why ants care so much about trees.