Ants found that "heal" damaged trees

Sometimes amazing scientific discoveries are madeaccidentally. One day, when high school student Alex Wcislo fired a clay ball into the trunk of a tropical cecropia tree with a slingshot, noticeable damage was left on the wood. However, after 24 hours they completely disappeared - it seemed as if the plant had the ability to restore damaged areas. After this observation, he gathered five friends and together they tried to drill holes in tree trunks. As expected, the damage disappeared within 24 hours. Subsequently, it turned out that the trees do not heal wounds on their own - this is done by the ants of the species living in them (Azteca alfari). But why do insects waste energy on this?

Ants of the species Azteca alfari are able to restore damaged trees, but why do they do it?

Tropical cecropia trees

First, let's talk about cecropia trees.They belong to the same species as the well-known nettle but, for the most part, grow in the tropical forests of Central and South America. They have large leaves and hollow stems. The latter feature is especially important, because the Indians used to make wind pipes from the hollow stems of cecropia. They were also divided in half and used as gutters.

Cecropia tree

See also: Some ants can change the size of their brains. Why are they doing this?

Symbiosis of ants and trees

Since there is nothing inside the trunk of cecropia, femalesants of the Azteca species use them for breeding. After fertilization, they gnaw a passage inside the trunk on its upper part and lay eggs there. After hatching, the young feed on the outgrowths that form on the swollen bases of the leaf petioles. Trees and ants are in a symbiotic relationship, that is, they entertain benefits from each other. For example, trees give ants a place to breed and habitat, and also release nutrients. In response, the ants protect the trees from leaf-cutting ants and other pests.

Female Azteca ants lay eggs inside plant stems

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How do ants regenerate trees?

In addition to this, it was recently revealed that antsable to repair damage to tree trunks. This unexpected discovery was reported in the scientific publication Science Alert. After students discovered a new ability in ants, professional ethologists - scientists who study animal behavior - became interested in this discovery.

I was surprised with the result.I'm impressed with how the students came up with an easy way to test the hypothesis that ants repair damage to the trees they inhabit, ”said researcher William Wcislo.

Scientists decided to study this phenomenon in more detail andcame to a very interesting conclusion. It turned out that ants do not always restore trees - during the experiment, they "cured" only 14 out of 22 holes made. Scientists want to find out why the insects are so picky, but they have already suggested that ants restore wood only when the offspring is in danger. Indeed, if damage occurs, pathogenic bacteria can enter or predators can penetrate.

Young researchers at work

In this case, we can conclude that fromOnly ants benefit from "repair" - they increase the chances of preserving the population. However, some researchers are inclined to speculate that trees may also benefit from repairing damage to the surface of the stems. Indeed, in this case, they themselves receive protection from pathogenic bacteria - the risk of diseases, which are also very common among plants, decreases.

Plants are more likely to benefit from the medicinal properties of ants.

Finally, it should be noted that to eliminateIn damage, ants use materials that are already inside the stems of trees. Basically, they take pieces of plant tissue from the surviving place and drag them to the site of the hole.

According to Alex Wislo, who made the accidental discovery, sometimes even fooling around with a slingshot gives surprising results:

This project allowed us on our own experienceexperience all the delights of scientific research. Overall, it was an excellent learning experience, especially considering the difficulties associated with its implementation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the young researcher noted.

Some scientific discoveries are indeedoccur by chance, especially in archaeological research. If you're interested, you can read about how a man accidentally found a 2500-year-old treasury. Here is the link.