Ants are known to undergo extreme measures to save their own. Previous studies have shown the industrious insects bringing injured comrades back to the nest to heal them and even exploding and sacrificing themselves to save their colonies from predators. Now a team of young researchers in Panama has found a empathetic species of ants that quickly repair any damage to its host tree.
The events that led to the incredible discovery began during the size of the pandemic in mid-2020. To pass the time during the confinement, Alex Wcislo and his friends decided to shoot balls of clay at the trees with a slingshot. They targeted the flat, broad leaves of the thin Cecropia trees to make the task more difficult. Things were going well until one of the 9mm (0.35 inch) clay balls accidentally hitting the tree trunk, leaving a clean to go out and entry wound.
Worried that he caused permanent too bad, Alex came back to examine the tree the next morning. It was accompanied by his father William Wcislo, a entomologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. To their surprise, the hole had been completely sealed! Curious to know what was going on, Alex and his friends enlisted through the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) volunteer program. After setting up the experiment settings with William, the teenagers got to work.
They drilled holes in the Cecropia trees in the surroundings then carefully documented what followed. The young scientists found that in 14 or 22 cases, swarms Azteca alfari ants instantly gathered in the damaged area. The worker insects immediately got to work and, using Equipment rods, significantly reduces hole size in two and a half hours. In most cases, the gap was completely sealed within 24 hours.
‘small sand-colored insects’ harmonious relationship with Cecropia trees has been known for many years. Trees provide ant colonies with food and shelter. In return, the insects protect their leaves from herbivores. However, their repair skills — which researchers suspect may have been sharpened repair the damage caused by the sharp nails of silky sloths and anteaters that frequent the trees – had never been seen before.
“Sometimes playing with a slingshot has a good results“, said Alex. “This project allowed us to discover first hand all the subtleties behind a scientific study. All in all, it was a great learning experience, especially considering the difficulties associated with the fulfillment of this due to COVID-19.”
Alex and his team, who published their findings in the Hymenoptera Diary The December 30, 2021 research still has a mystery to solve. They don’t know why the bugs didn’t fix all the holes. Understanding this selective behavior is something they hope to explore in the future – say listen!
Resources: stri.si.edu, sciencealert.com