[ExI] Ants for spike!

MB mbb386 at main.nc.us
Mon Nov 9 13:32:11 UTC 2009


Helpful acts, such as grooming or foster parenting, are common throughout the animal
kingdom, but accounts of animals rescuing one another from danger are exceedingly
rare, having been reported in the scientific literature only for dolphins, capuchin
monkeys, and ants. New research shows that in the ant Cataglyphis cursor, the
behavior is surprisingly sophisticated.

Elise Nowbahari of the University of Paris North, Karen L. Hollis of Mount Holyoke
College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and two colleagues mimicked a natural
situation-an ant restrained by collapsing sand and debris.

But hidden beneath the sand was a nylon snare holding the ant firmly in place. The
ant's nestmates consistently responded by digging around the victim and tugging at
its limbs until they found the trap, then biting at the nylon strand. Potential
rescuers did not, however, do the same for unrelated ants or insects of other

The ants' ability to discern and then tackle the unfamiliar nylon snare demonstrates
cognitive and behavioral complexity, unlike such simple actions as digging or limb
pulling, which could arguably be elicited by a chemical distress signal. Nowbahari
and Hollis distinguish rescue behavior from other cooperative acts in that both
participants risk physical harm (rescuing ants could themselves be trapped under
falling sand), with no possibility of reward for the rescuer aside from the benefits
of kin selection.

The research was detailed in the journal PLoS ONE.

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