Ants Amputating Each Other To Save Lives

By Christopher Isaac | Published


We commonly think of humans as being the most advanced species when it comes to the level of medical care and life saving practices that we are able to provide for each other. But new research reveals that ants might arguably have better life saving skills than what we are able to provide even through technological means. It has been observed that ants are actually naturally capable of providing each other life-saving amputations after critical injuries.

Lots Of Legs, Lots Of Leg Problems


This behavior was seen demonstrated in carpenter ants in Florida. While ants typically work together in harmony for a unified colony, when they cross paths with other colonies or rival insects, the need to fight can arise.

This inevitably leads to deaths and injuries and with how many legs ants have, leg injuries are very common. But rather than abandoning their comrades, ants will actually attempt to save their injured members.

The Best Medical Care In The Animal Kingdom


Erik Frank is an entomologist with the University of Würzburg in Germany, as well as the lead author on the research about ants utilizing amputations in a paper published for Current Biology.

After the research was conducted, Frank said, “I am convinced that we can safely say that the ants’ ‘medical system’ to care for the injured is the most sophisticated in the animal kingdom, rivaled only by our own.”

That is certainly high praise for the ability of ants. And it is not as if they automatically decide to amputate any injured leg.

Research showed that the ants will first assess the injury and make a determination whether it can be treated simply through cleaning the wound (which they are believed to do through secretions in their mouths) or if the injury is so severe that the leg must be removed.

No Pain Meds

The researchers believed it had to do with how well the ant’s hemolymph, their equivalent of blood, was flowing in the injured area. “Injuries further down the leg have an increased hemolymph flow,” said Frank, “meaning that pathogens already enter the body after only five minutes, rendering amputations useless by the time they could be performed.”

As for the amputations themselves, the ants naturally do not have the sophisticated instruments and anesthesia that a human hospital would utilize in such scenarios.

Instead, the ants perform the amputation by simply biting off the leg for their injured ally. This is a process that researchers witnessed taking as long as three hours.

It Isn’t Empathy

However, the researchers made it clear that they do not believe that ants do this out of any sense of compassion for an injured friend. In fact, in instances where amputation would not be enough to save the ant, the other members of the colony will make the determination to abandon the injured insect.

The explanation that science has come up with is that ants view each other as resources, and leaving behind an ant that could still perform work if it was saved would be looked at as leaving behind a valuable asset.

High Survival Rates

So while it would seem ants are able to provide each other care that can rival what humans are able to do for each other, it is seemingly done without empathy being the same rationale.

However, it is nonetheless impressive what ants are capable of. Based on incidents that were observed, in cases where amputation was necessary, the survival rate for the ants was between 90-95 percent.

Source: Reuters