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Self-Medicating Ants

September 4, 2015

When infected with a fungus, ants know how to get their medicine and how much to take.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Self-medicating ants. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Sick ants choose foods that fight their infection. In work published in the journal Evolution, University of Helsinki researcher Dalial Freitak reports that ants infected with a fungus skipped their normal foods and chose food spiked with hydrogen peroxide, a compound that forms fungus-killing free radicals.

DALIAL FREITAK (University of Helsinki):

It’s just basically like in humans, sometimes when we are sick we have different cravings for different foods, right? It’s kind of known that in many cases it means that our body’s lacking certain elements. So I think this is probably pretty similar mechanism in ants.

HIRSHON:

In the wild, ants can get free radicals from eating decomposing tissues or other insects. But it’s unhealthy to get too much. Freitak says the ants seem to know this.

FREITAK:

They actually know how much they have to eat it to kill off the fungus. I found that very fascinating.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.