Sick Ants Self-Medicate to Fight Infection, Study Finds

posted: 08/21/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Silhouetted black ants

For the first time, researchers have observed fungus-infected ants consciously self-medicating.

A healthy ant generally avoids high levels of hydrogen peroxide due to the negative physiological impacts of consuming the compound. However, researchers from the University of Helsinki noticed that ants will willingly consume the compound once they become infected with harmful fungal diseases, a move that markedly decreased mortality rates among sick ants.

"The fact that ingestion of this substance carries a fitness cost in the absence of pathogens rules out compensatory diet choice as the mechanism, and provides evidence that social insects medicate themselves against fungal infection, using a substance that carries a fitness cost to uninfected individuals," researchers write.

According to study lead author Nick Bos, ants in the wild likely source hydrogen peroxide from the decaying bodies of aphids and possibly other ants.

What's not clear yet, however, is exactly how the ants know that they've been infected.

Bos' study "Ants medicate to fight disease" is published in the latest edition of the journal Ecology.

H/T New Scientist

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