Research, Technology

Why do lizards eat poisonous ants?

The most dangerous ants in the world are representativesspecies Solenopsis invicta. Red fire ants have a powerful stinger through which a strong poison enters the bodies of victims. The bite of red ants causes unbearable pain in humans, and if there is an allergy, it can even be fatal. For most animals, it is also deadly, but scientists have noticed that some eastern fenced iguanas (Sceloporus undulatus) are not at all afraid of their bites. As a result of the experiment, it was found that they carry out a kind of "vaccination" by eating red ants and exposing themselves to small doses of a dangerous poison. This seems to be a great example of how some animals learn to cohabitate with each other.

Iguana with an ant in its mouth

The most dangerous ants in the world

Initially, red fire ants livedonly in South America. But in the 1930s, their range expanded because they were accidentally brought to the United States on cargo ships. Today they can be found in all states from Texas to Maryland, as well as the northeastern regions of Mexico.

Red fire ant (Solenopsis invicta)

Local animals were not ready to face thesecruel insects, so they began to suffer greatly from their attacks. Fire ants pose a great threat to the US nature and cause economic losses, so they are carefully studied by different groups of scientists. More than 3,000 scientific research results on this topic have already been carried out, and recently there has been one more article.

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Lizard Immunity to Poison

Scientists have noticed that living in placesdistribution of poisonous ants, fence iguanas do not die from their bites. At the same time, lizards living in safe areas are very susceptible to ant venom and die from a few bites. It has also been observed that iguanas living near ants often eat them, despite the poison they contain. There was an assumption - what if in this way they vaccinate themselves in order to develop immunity against poison?

Eastern fence lizard

To test their guesses, the scientists conductedexperiment. They took a group of 17 lizards and fed them red ants for three weeks. Another group of 18 iguanas were bitten by poisonous insects three times a week. After that, they checked the work of the immune system of individuals from both groups - a very interesting detail was noticed.

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Vaccination in the animal world

It turned out that insect bitesiguanas received three elevated immune scores. Firstly, they have increased the concentration of basophils - these are blood cells that are responsible for inflammatory reactions during the immune response. Second, they have increased levels of immunoglobulin (IgM) antibodies that react to fire ant venom. Thirdly, the lizards activated the complement system - a complex of protective proteins that are constantly present in the blood and support the body's immune response.

By eating poisonous ants, lizards increase their chances of survival.

According to biologist Catherine Taylan (CatherineTylan), these three immune indicators may well endow lizards with protection from dangerous ant venom. Most likely, the antibodies produced during the eating of red ants subsequently bind the poison that enters the bite so that it cannot negatively affect the body.

Perhaps fire ant pissing stimulatesenhanced immune response, acting like a vaccine. Thus, eating fire ants may help lizards prepare for future exposure to the poison, Taylan concluded.

Thanks to new scientific work, scientists have becomeit is known that in the animal world there is also something like vaccination. In addition, they were able to see how "indigenous" animal species adapt to the introduction of invasive species such as venomous ants in order to maintain their populations.

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In general, the animal world is amazing, and scientists clearlythere are many interesting things to discover. Recently, researchers have found that pocket gophers (Geomys pinetis) can grow food in garden beds - an ability that has not previously been seen in any other animal. If you are interested in how they do it, you can find out the details at this link.