Rescue Ants

At any one time on planet earth, there are a quadrillion ants present. Ants, like humans, owe their success to living in social groups. Ants cooperate to build and defend nests, forage for food and other resources and to produce offspring. A group of scientists report* that the ant species, Cataglyphis cursor, will engage in “rescue” behavior to free a nestmate that is entrapped or attacked by a predator. In an arena, they snared ants by the leg and observed the behavior of nest mates. Nest mates of the snared ant engaged in behavior to remove sand and rock from on top of the limb and would bite the snare. The trapped ant communicates its distress to its nest mates, possibly by a pheromone. It is not clear what cues direct the ant “rescuers” to the snare in an attempt to release their nest mate.

Rescue behavior by the ants may be important for colony defense. Attackers that could overwhelm an individual ant may succumb or be deterred by a small swarm. There is a cool video of the ants on the PLoSOne site (Scroll down).

Ant Mound

Ant Mound

*Nowbahari E, Scohier A, Durand J-L, Hollis KL (2009) Ants, Cataglyphis cursor, Use Precisely Directed Rescue Behavior to Free Entrapped Relatives. PLoS ONE 4(8): e6573. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006573

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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