Ants Actually Social Distance!
Ants are very social creatures, operating in tandem with their colony to create an impressive and highly functional society. Due to their close proximity with other members of their colony, they are at risk of contracting and spreading contagions throughout their population.
Preventing Ant Illness
Surprisingly, part of ant culture actually includes consideration for cleanliness in order to prevent disease (although their actions are most likely fueled by instinct rather than active consideration of cause and effect). Ants will take part in removing garbage, excrement and even the dead bodies of their fellow ants from their nests. Though it was originally hypothesized that this had to do with preventing the spread of pathogens, that wasn’t confirmed until recently…
A study at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland released their findings about ant culture when it comes to sick ants. As it turns out, similar to humans, when sick with a little “ant cold,” the ants will stay away from their fellow colony-members and heal before returning to work. In the study, the researchers first established a control by monitoring the ants’ collective behaviors and movements for four days. On the fifth day, a fugus was introduced to a select collection of the colony’s forager ants. This fungus is common in the soil of gardens and is well known amongst entomologists to cause illness in ants. When these infected foraging ants were reintroduced to their colony, they made an active effort to distance themselves from the rest of the population. This was not the only change however…
The researchers observed that the healthy forager ants who had not been exposed to the fungi increased their time spent in solitude away from the colony. Meanwhile the nurse ants, who take care of the young in a colony, moved the eggs and babies further into the depths of the colony’s maze – isolating themselves from exposure to any of the roaming forager ants.
Ants Take Sick Days
So, as it turns out, ants take sick days! Especially in the current climate of our planet, it’s fascinating to see that other social creatures also reorganize their societies to “flatten the curve” and reduce the spread of disease.
Katz, B. (2018) Ants Take Sick Days Too, Smithsonian Magazine. SmartNews. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ants-take-sick-days-too-180970881/ (Accessed: April 2020).