Then there are the Macrotermes termites and their detailed battle plans for defending the home nest. If ants ever come over to pillage and manage to breach their walls, the termite soldiers will drum on the walls to alert the colony of danger, sending an alarm reverberating throughout the entire nest like an air raid siren. When that happens, soldiers immediately charge out of the hole, sacrificing their lives to hold back the enemy, while workers scramble to seal up the damaged wall. In a pinch, the soldiers will even block the tunnels with their heads. OK, so maybe they're not geniuses. But still ...
Ants Leave No Man Behind
If there's one thing that separates humans from animals, it's our willingness to help one another in a time of crisis (also, animals can't ride bicycles for shit). Insects are worst of all -- they operate on a hive mentality where a single individual doesn't even register. They'll mindlessly sacrifice wave upon wave of excess bodies for the good of the colony, without a second thought ... is what most people think, and also the exact opposite of what science discovered as far back as 1874.
Yes, way back in the 19th century, biologists observed certain ants taking time to dig out their comrades who had become trapped in sand. Modern scientists then decided to test this supposed ant compassion by setting up an experiment where they buried a bunch of ants ensnared in nylon string.
Nowbahari E, Scohier A, Durand J-L, Hollis KL, PLoS ONE, via YouTube
"We were already torturing the ants and figured we might as well get some grant money in the process."
Surprisingly, instead of just marching blindly on, the ant's nestmates actually launched a rescue mission to free the prisoner, carefully digging out the sand and chewing through the string until the victim was free.
Ants caring for their wounded might sound like a whimsical bit of propaganda from the anti-pesticide, pro-unicorn farts lobby, but their camaraderie actually goes much further: Ants will plunge headfirst into battle with a deadly antlion to save a comrade from being eaten. In one test, researchers threw ants into an antlion pit (seriously, scientist guys: When the ants inevitably rebel against us, we're blaming you), and when it would grab a victim in its jaws, the other insects would try to free it by biting and stinging the antlion. Once, the rescuer herself ended up being next on the antlion's menu, but rather than fleeing the scene, the newly freed victim returned the favor, valiantly staying in the fight to save her buddy.
Jonathan Numer, via Wikipedia
Also, this is an antlion. It's like the Sarlacc had a threesome with a spider and Clive Barker's imagination.
Of course, ant loyalty only extends to the colony's boundaries. In the experiment where ants were tied up with string, only ants from the same nest would bother saving Private Ryant. If ants from a separate nest were on the scene, the prisoner was ignored, tortured, or sometimes even killed while it couldn't fight back. So, yeah, they're not like humans at all!
You can bug Alan on Twitter, where his puns don't get much better. When Mr. Yee isn't training kung fu mantis bodyguards for the inevitable Bug Wars, he's usually making T-shirts and writing his daily online fortune cookie.
Related Reading: We've got a feeling you aren't scared enough of ants right now. This article should help. Still not scared? You should know they're growing immune to our poisons. In fact, if these Argentine ants have their way, the whole planet will be sporting six legs before much longer.
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