Treatment for Tiny Battle Wounds | God's World News

Treatment for Tiny Battle Wounds

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    A Matabele ant eats a termite. (ETF89/CC)
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    A Matabele ant tends a wound of an ant that had several legs bitten off by termites. (Erik Frank, University of Würzburg)
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    A healthy ant checks another ant injured by termite bites. (ETF89/CC)
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    Matabele ants raid a termite nest. (ETF89/CC)
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    Matabele ants use antibiotic substances to treat wounds. The substance comes from the metapleural gland on the side of an ant’s thorax. (Fumika Azuma/Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology)
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Soldiers rush back to base after a fierce battle. The injured call for help. Their unharmed comrades carry them to safety. Medics treat infected wounds with antibiotics. Thanks to their care, most of the wounded survive.

These brave fighters are bugs. They’re Matabele ants from sub-Saharan Africa—scientific name Megaponera analis. They eat only termites. Hunting parties raid termite colonies for food. But the termites fight back, using powerful jaws to kill or injure the ant attackers.

Scientists knew that the ants care for their injured by cleaning the injuries with their mouths. Now researchers from Germany’s Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg have found that the ants can identify infected wounds. They treat those with antimicrobial substances that they produce themselves. (Antimicrobial agents kill microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.)

An injured ant releases scent from a gland on its head, drawing attention from its nestmates. They locate the ant and carry it home. However, mortally wounded ants flail around so much that they cannot be picked up. These are left behind.

Insects have hydrocarbon coverings on their exoskeletons. Those coverings keep insects from drying out. They also help insects recognize each other. Infected wounds create chemical changes in the ants’ coverings.

When the healers discern those changes, they clean the wounds with their mouthparts. Have you ever seen an animal lick a wound? That action can remove dirt or debris. Certain types of mammal saliva even kill some bacteria and promote healing.

The ants take this to the next level. They apply a substance of antimicrobial compounds and proteins. The medicine comes from a gland on the side of an ant’s thorax (its chest section). Researchers say that more than 50 components of the substance have antimicrobial or wound-healing properties.

When researchers kept infected ants from the healers, 90% of them died. But 78% of ants treated by the colony survived! Many were able to return to termite hunting—even with one or two missing legs.

“With the exception of humans, I know of no other living creature that can carry out such sophisticated medical wound treatments,” says study co-author Erik Frank.

One of the major disease-causing organisms for the ants is Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The bacterium also causes infection in humans. Scientists wonder: Could studying the ants’ wound treatment yield new medicines for people?

The writer of Proverbs 30 calls ants “small but exceedingly wise.” Turns out, these ants have even more “wisdom,” or God-given instinctual abilities, than the writer likely knew.

Why? God provides for even the smallest of His creatures. Humans still have much to learn from His intricate creation.

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