Not Just Humans, These Tiny Creatures Also Use Antibiotics to Treat Wounds

Researchers found that these antibiotic compounds are located on the side of these tiny creatures' thorax

A new study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Würzburg has suggested that it is not just humans who use antibiotics to treat wounds in a bid to prevent infection.

According to the report published in the journal Nature Communications, Matabele ants, scientifically known as Megaponera analis, which are commonly seen in the south of the Sahara have also developed a sophisticated treatment practice to use antibiotics to heal wounds.

Matabele ant
A Matabele ant tends to the wound of a fellow ant whose legs were bitten off in a fight with termites. Erik Frank / University of Wuerzburg

In the research report, experts who took part in the study noted that the hunting habits of these ants often used to turn dangerous, and during these times, there are possibilities that they will get wounded.

However, these ants are capable of distinguishing between non-infected and infected wounds and treat the latter efficiently with antibiotics they produce themselves, according to the study report prepared by Dr Erik Frank from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg and Professor Laurent Keller from the University of Lausanne.

"Chemical analyses in cooperation with JMU Professor Thomas Schmitt have shown that the hydrocarbon profile of the ant cuticle changes as a result of a wound infection," says Frank, according to a press statement.

The press statement continued: "It is precisely this change that the ants are able to recognise and thus diagnose the infection status of injured nestmates."

For treatment, these ants apply antimicrobial compounds and proteins to the infected wounds, and this medicine is secreted from the metapleural gland, which is located on the side of their thorax.

The study report further noted that this secretion is loaded with over 112 compounds, half of which have an antimicrobial or wound-healing effect.

The research group noted that the treatment using these compounds is capable of reducing the mortality rate of an ant by 90 percent.

"With the exception of humans, I know of no other living creature that can carry out such sophisticated medical wound treatments," added Frank.