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Ants Self-Medicate: Taking Hydrogen Peroxide Cures Fungal Infection

Aug 24, 2015 02:53 PM EDT
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As humans we understand that taking medicine when we are sick often makes us feel better. However, evidence indicating that other animals are capable of the same behavior has been hard to find. That is, until now.

The black ant (Formica fusca) seeks different food after it is exposed to fungal pathogens, according to research conducted by scientists from the University of Helsinki, Finland. In this situation ants ingest hydrogen peroxide, which can be found in the surrounding damaged plants, other insects and cadavers, the researchers said in a statement.

"When ants are feeding on the diet containing extra free radicals, they are able to survive infections significantly better. Moreover, the ants also choose the diet including extra free radicals after they are exposed to fungus, but not if they are not," Dalial Freitak, professor of biological and environmental sciences, said in the statement. 

The study found that healthy individuals with no infectious symptoms that feed on the hydrogen peroxide experienced the same detrimental side-effects of taking any drug. However, once infected, free-radical-feeding ants were observed to have about a 20% higher chance of surviving the otherwise lethal fungal disease.

"It is an amazing discovery that ants have an idea of their health status and seem to adjust the dosage of medicine to that," Nick Bos, another researcher on the study, added.

The study was recently published in the international journal, Evolution.

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