Ants are known to endanger themselves for the well-being of their colony. Desert Ants ( Veromessor pergandei ) are particularly heroic. New research suggests that insects invade spider webs to rescue their captive nestmates. Sometimes they tear the silk to free it.
The researchers first observed the fearless ants in 2015 in the Mojave and Sonora deserts. The insects not only freed their comrades from the sticky silk, but then disassembled the entire web and tore it apart for up to 2 hours with the pines, reports the team in The American Naturalist . The rescues were not without personal risk. About 6% of the rescuers got stuck in the silk or were captured by the nearby lurking spider.
When the scientists brought the ants back to their lab, they discovered that the insects were ignoring empty nets. Their bravery is likely to be fueled by chemical distress signals sent by their networked siblings, the team suspects.
The results brought desert ants into an exclusive club of animals committed to "rescue behavior," which is normally reserved for mammals such as primates and dolphins. Even rarer are those that destroy traps. In vertebrates, they limit themselves to two groups of chimpanzees and mountain gorillas that dissect poacher traps.
The researchers believe that the ants 'heroes' tribe may have evolved because V. pergandei needs to collect enough seeds for the colony to produce hundreds of new ants every day. This makes the life and work of every shredder indispensable.