Poison me gently: Ants share poison with their relatives to protect them from disease

(ORDO NEWS) — The poison of fire ants is deadly, but the ants themselves do not think so. They even share venom with others to prevent disease outbreaks inside the nest.

Fire ants are known as creepy “little death machines” whose venom causes burning pain comparable to that of a burn.

In the US alone, about 14 million people suffer from these insects every year, and if some experience only pain, others can be brought to anaphylactic shock by the ant’s venom .

But what is a dangerous poison for humans and a source of potential health problems, for the ants themselves is a hunting device, a means of protection from predators, and even… medicine.

Distributed within the colony, the ant venom acts as a broad-spectrum antibiotic, inhibiting the growth of dangerous pathogens.

Since forager ants (those that collect food and deliver it to the nest) often come into contact with various fungi, bacteria and microorganisms, and when they return home they share food with their brethren, the ants have to somehow take care of their own health.

And the most reliable way to do this is to take antibiotics in the form of a dose of poison, or to be disinfected by being sprayed from the venom gland of a relative.

It turned out that adult ants constantly share poison with each other, releasing it and spraying it on surrounding surfaces or allowing nearby relatives to receive a dose of “medicine” on their own.

The workers also feed the poison to the larvae, which are especially vulnerable to pathogens, but do not yet know how to produce the poison themselves.

When a new colony is born, the founding female, having received a portion of the poison in the parental nest and storing it in her stomach, feeds poison to all hatched larvae.

This continues until the first generation of worker ants appears, after which they begin to take care of the growing larvae.

Thus, fire ants have developed not only individual but also social immunity, based on the constant interaction of the members of the colony and the poison they share.


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