Scientists have found that ants in Florida operate on their fellows to save lives. Apart from humans, they are the only other animal in the world that is known to do this.

Researchers discovered that Florida carpenter ants (Camponotus floridanus) recognize injuries on their nestmates’ limbs and either amputation or washing is used to treat them.

The group’s research was released in the journal Current Biology on Tuesday, July 2.

Erik Frank, the study’s lead author and a behavioral ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, stated, “In terms of amputation behavior, this is the sole instance in the animal kingdom where a sophisticated and systematic amputation of an individual by another member of the same species is observed.”

Frank’s group found in 2023 that an African ant species called Megaponera analis can use an antibiotic compound made in their glands to heal infected wounds on other members of their nest. Since Florida carpenter ants lack comparable glands, the researchers set out to investigate how the species treats wounds in individual ants.

The researchers specifically examined two kinds of leg wounds: those that were higher up on the tibia and those that were lower on the femur (thigh).

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In a series of trials, they found that, in contrast to treating wounds on the tibia, ants treated injuries on the femur by cleaning the wound with their jaws before repeatedly biting the leg off.

The survival rates of their ant victims significantly improved as a result of the procedures. After cleaning, survival rates for tibia injuries increased from 15% to 75%, while survival rates for femur injuries improved from less than 40% to between 90 and 95%.

Due to timing constraints, the scientists propose that ants should only amputate femur injuries rather than entire leg injuries.

Ants need at least forty minutes to accomplish an amputation.

Following an analysis of the ants’ micro-CT scans, the researchers hypothesised that the femur’s damaged blood-pumping muscles are the reason for the slowed blood flow. This would imply that blood tainted with germs would enter the body more slowly, giving the ants more time to amputate the limb.

In contrast, because ant tibias contain relatively little muscle tissue, infections can spread more quickly. Accordingly, the ants concentrate on cleaning the wound because it would take too long for them to amputation in order to halt the spread of dangerous bacteria.

Frank stated, “The ants can diagnose a wound, determine if it is infected or sterile, and provide appropriate treatment over extended periods. The only medical system that can rival this level of care is the human one.”

The researchers concluded that the ants’ natural capacity to recognize and manage wounds preferentially outweighed any evidence of learning.

In order to find out if additional ant species are capable of performing surgery, the scientists are now expanding their investigation to include ant species that lack unique antimicrobial glands.

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