The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered our lives in many ways. It now appears that our lives will not return to normal until scientists develop a vaccine to protect us from the ravages of this unforgiving disease. Meanwhile, aside from wearing masks and frequently washing our hands, the only way we can reduce our chances of contracting the disease is to practice social distancing. This behavior is totally alien to us. However, Austrian and Swiss biologists have discovered that black garden ants have long practiced social distancing to prevent the spread of disease within their colonies.
As we all know, ants are social insects. It seems the worker caste of black garden ant colonies is divided into nurses and foragers. The foragers are charged with the responsibility of gathering food for the colony. In comparison, nurses stay within the colony and care for developing broods of new ants.
When the scientists exposed the foragers with a disease-causing fungus, they witnessed remarkable changes in the behaviors of both the foragers and nurses. Those foragers that became infected with the fungus increased the amount of time they spent away from the colony. By so doing they reduced the time they came in contact with other workers. Their change in behavior coincided with the nurse ants transporting the broods deeper into the recesses of the colony. The biologists theorize these behavioral changes helped minimize the spread of the disease throughout the entire colony. The scientists went to say their research might suggest the ants have the ability to detect spores on themselves and other ants.
Who would have ever believed something like this is going in the insect world?