An ant species that goes into battle with termites in Africa tends to its wounded, according to researchers.
A team of Matabele ant medics were observed rescuing injured comrades from the battlefield and carrying them to safety.
Other critically injured ants refused to allow themselves to be rescued in an apparent act of selfless heroism.
Once the injured ants had been returned to the nest, the treatment they were given depended on the severity of their wounds.
Their behaviour results in the rate of death of injured ants from the warfare being cut from 80% to 10%.
German researchers who made the discovery said the behaviour appeared highly organised.
Dr Erik Frank, from Julius-Maximilians University in Wurzburg, said: “Heavily injured ants (loss of five extremities) were not rescued or treated; this was regulated not by the helper but by the unresponsiveness of the injured ant.
“We show organised social wound treatment in insects through a multifaceted help system focused on injured individuals,” he wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
A video by Erik T Fran shows how ants work to treat their injured colleagues.
“This was not only limited to selective rescuing of lightly injured individuals by carrying them back (thus reducing predation risk), but, moreover, included a differentiated treatment inside the nest.”
The discovery was made after the scientists studied violent clashes between the ants and termites in Comoe National Park, Ivory Coast.
Matabele ant colonies were found to launch their raids against termites two to four times a day.
Between 200 and 600 insects would march on a termite mound in files where they would attempt to kill their prey and haul them back to the nests, to be eaten.
But regularly the ants met powerful resistance as the termites used their strong jaws to slice through enemy limbs.
Those who needed help put out a distress signal by secreting a chemical pheromone that compelled other soldiers to come to their aid.
Back at a ‘hospital’ in the ants’ base, their open wounds were ‘treated’ by intensive licking, often for several minutes, the scientists found.
It is believed that the saliva may contain antibacterial agents that help treat the injuries.
Those which are too badly wounded struggle and lash out when rescuers attempt to retrieve them.
“They simply don’t cooperate with the helpers and are left behind as a result,” Dr Frank added.
(c) Sky News 2018: Warring Matabele ant soldiers ‘retrive injured from battlefield’