Medic! (Part I)

The Megaponera analis is one of the most aggressive ant species, along with the army ant. It’s common name — the Matabele ant — comes from a fierce tribe in South Africa known as the Matabele that conquered most of the other tribes in the area. The Matabele ant’s name is not simply a baseless rumor. In fact, their sole choice of food is the flesh of nearby termite colonies.

But this isn’t the Matabele ant’s only defining feature. While other species of ants will abandon their wounded, the Matabele ants try to not leave any of their wounded on the battlefield. Instead, they carry their wounded allies home and care for their wounds by “licking” them. It is unknown whether or not it is the “licking” process that helps them recover but, with this method, far fewer ants tend to die from their wounds. Experts say that this may be due to the presence of enzymes in the ant’s saliva or even simply keeping the wound clean.

No Leg? No Problem

In the animal world, a lost limb usually results in death. Whether it’s a loss of blood or being caught by a predator, death is more than likely. The world of insects, however, tells another story. Most insects can live with a missing leg or two. Take the Pholcus phalangioides for example. Commonly known as the “daddy long-legs”, it is one of the many spiders in the world and is characterized by 8 thin, long legs which are tipped with small claw-like extensions attached to its miniscule torso. When attacked, the daddy long-legs has the ability to detach any of its legs to escape, much like a gecko. The leg continues to twitch and writhe to distract the predator while the daddy long-legs makes a quick escape.

Most insects can even learn to move at the same speed as when it had all of its limbs. Of course, this change is not immediate, as it will take time in order to learn the new method of movement. A video by “Deep Look” on Youtube shows this phenomenone for those who are interested.

Back from the Dead

When most people think of this concept, it’s in the form of a zombie. A shambling, no-brained creature that just wants to eat brains and infects the people they bite. Although not on the same premise as how zombies are usually made — viruses — there are cases in which dead insects come back to life.

Of course, the case that is well-known is the fungus known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. In essence, when the host creature is about to die, the fungus orders the host to climb high up into the towering foliage and hang on for dear life. The ant has no control over this entire process and, unfortunately, brings this same misfortune on her fellow sisters. Although this fungus has the potential to decimate entire colonies, like every zombie-outbreak movie, there’s a way to stop the spread.

Ants that are affected by O. unilateralis have developed an ability to sense whether a member has been affected and will carry away the infected member. In most cases, however, the fungus is stopped by an unknown hyperparasite. A hyperparasite is an entity that parasitizes another parasite. Essentially, it is assisting the host by removing the host’s parasite. This hyperparasite is able to stop the spore from reproducing by attacking the fungus as it tries to form a spore-producing stalk.

Sticking to Defense

Termites are a relatively weak type of insect, relying solely on dedicated defenders. But this does not mean that their defenses are sturdy enough. In most cases, the soldier termites are used as a distraction, allowing the workers to seal the queen’s chamber shut. This way, invaders are unable to destroy the colonies chance for success. To lower the chances of this happening, another form of specialized defender has been evolved — the Nasutitermitinae or nasutes. Nasutes are defenders with very different head-shapes from their peers. They have a horn-like structure that is able to spray noxious chemicals at intruders. However, in return, they lose their mandibles and, with that, their ability to eat on their own. Because of this development, other workers must feed them in order for them to survive.

Who is the Heir?

Ants usually need a queen to continue laying eggs. Without the queen, most colonies will fall due to having no replacements for the workers. There’s always an exception to rules, however. In some species of ants, there is no designated queen and every ant is able to lay eggs. These ants are known as gamergates. However, they can only lay eggs that will mature into males. When males have been born, they will mate with whichever female seems most dominant/attractive. Some species will have a single gamergate while others may have multiple egg-laying gamergates. When a worker has developed the ability to lay eggs, she will attempt to inhibit her sisters, clipping off bumps found on the abdomen or by using pheromones that cause the workers to remain nonreproductive.