In a behavior that hasn’t ever been spotted in insects scientists have discovered that African Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) have developed a rescue behavior wherein they rescue their mates injured in fights.
Researchers say that these ants hunt down termites and as they engage in raids there are instances wherein many of these ants end up getting injured because of the fight put up by termites. Injury and mortality can occur during such combats, as termites are very adept at using their powerful jaws to fend off the attackers. Because of the high number of injuries, these ants have developed a rescue behaviour hitherto unknown in insects.
Researchers at University of Würzburg’s Biocentre explain that an ant is injured in a fight, it will “call” its mates for help by excreting chemical substances. The injured insect is then carried back to the nest where it can recover after receiving treatment. What is the “therapy” like? Usually, treatment involves removing the termites still clinging to the ant.
“We have observed helping behaviour vis-à-vis injured animals for the first time in invertebrates,” says Ph.D. student Erik Frank. This was an unexpected finding, especially for social insects, where individuals are usually of little value. But obviously, it pays off for the colony as a whole to invest in the rescue service as the researchers demonstrate in their publication.