Ants spread collective immunity through contact

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

The ant’s success is tempered by the vulnerability to infections.Imagine you get a bad cold, but you decide to put on a brave face and go into work anyway. Instead of jokingly covering their mouths and making jibes about staying away from you, your colleagues act perfectly normally and some even and start rubbing up against you. It’s a weird scenario, but not if you were an ant.

With their large colonies and intense co-operation, ants are some of the most successful animals on the plant. But like all social insects and animals, they large group sizes make them vulnerable breeding grounds for parasites and infections. A infectious disease in a tightly knit colony spells trouble and it’s no surprise that social insects have evolved ways of stopping the spread of infections.

Some are sticklers for hygiene and meticulously clean their peers while others quarantine infected individuals in colony sick chambers. Some termites even warn their peers to stay away through head-banging. And bees kill off a heat-resistant bacteria by gathering in an infected part of the colony and raising its temperature, effectively setting off a ‘colony fever’.

Now, scientists from the University of Copenhagen have found that some ants use a form of collective immunity, where infected individuals trigger resistance in those around them through contact.

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