These Ants Can ‘Heal’ Wounded Trees in a Fascinating Symbiotic Relationship

Cortez Deacetis

An accidental slingshot strike on a Cecropia tree in Panama has led to a stunning discovery: the Azteca alfari ants that dwell inside of these trees are typically ready to correct problems to their dwelling residences.


When significant schooler Alex Wcislo fired the 9 mm (.35 inch) clay ball by the tree, leaving clean up entry and exit ‘wounds’, he did not expect the holes to be practically wholly fixed prior to 24 several hours was up.

That led to further experiments by Wcislo and five of his university student good friends, drilling holes in other trees to see how they would be patched up.

Certain enough, the ant repairs took place time and time all over again. The experiments ended up then prepared up and published as portion of the volunteer program at the Smithsonian Tropical Study Institute (STRI) in Panama.

The analysis workforce in action. (Donna Conlon)

“I was fully shocked by the results,” claims ethologist William Wcislo, from the  STRI. “And I was impressed by how [the students] produced a very simple way to examination the plan that ants maintenance harm to their property.”

The symbiotic or mutually valuable relationship concerning Azteca ants and the trees that host them has previously been properly proven: the ants will do their greatest to protect the trees against herbivores, receiving healthy oily secretions from the leaves to try to eat and shelter in just hollow stems in return.

What is new here is the observation that the insects also mend problems to their tree buddies if that shelter is threatened. Based mostly on the new investigate, this appears to most commonly transpire when the brood (the eggs, larvae and pupae) of a colony is at possibility.

GettyImages 1272702359The Cecropia tree, guarded by Azteca ants. (NancyAyumi/iStock/Getty Visuals Plus)

The repairs are manufactured applying content discovered within just the plant stem by itself, but it will not come about in each and every case – in point restore positions were being only carried out on 14 of the 22 drilled holes. Knowledge why this is the circumstance could be the topic of more exploration.

“The reasoning behind hole fix actions could be for the reason that a gap in the wall exposes the ants’ vulnerable immature levels to external pathogens, predators, or adjustments in other environmental parameters,” write the scientists in their released paper.


Following burrowing into Cecropia trees, Azteca ants will near up some of the entry details, incorporating credence to the plan that their trunk repairs are additional to do with their personal wellbeing fairly than any gain the tree itself will get.

Which is backed up by the observations created throughout the experiments: that the ants will evacuate their brood ahead of starting the patch up position. It can be probable that when the repairs are not carried out, it can be for the reason that the susceptible users of the colony aren’t directly below risk.

The group, however, can’t completely rule out the probability that the tree is obtaining some benefit from this ant actions, this kind of as antimicrobial secretions all over its injury.

And although slingshot pellets are not usually a issue for Cecropia trees, holes left by the toenails of sloths and anteaters usually are, which could be why the ants they are hosting have advanced to behave in this way.

“Often messing about with a slingshot has a superior final result,” suggests Alex Wcislo, who studies at the International University of Panama.

“This job permitted us to knowledge very first-hand all the intricacies driving a scientific examine. All in all, it was a wonderful understanding experience, in particular thinking about the troubles linked with fulfilling this because of to COVID-19.”

The study has been printed in the Journal of Hymenoptera Study.


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