ANT-i Aging

Image of old lady and young woman holding hands.

What does a worker ant have to do to get the royal treatment?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Like bees, ants live in social colonies. Close quarters means infections and parasites can wipe out the colony fast. You’d think a tapeworm infestation spells doom for an anthill – but tapeworm-infected ants actually live LONGER. How?

Enter Sara Beros from the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany and team. 

They wondered how infection affects ant behavior. So they collected fourteen colonies with tapeworm-infested ants. These are easy to spot: the tapeworm turns the ants yellow! Each colony was set up in an ant farm with glass sides for observation. Then the team checked each farm twenty times throughout the day. 

What did they find? Yellow infected ants were fed, carried and pampered by their healthier friends! In fact, they got even more attention than the queen! Beros believes this extra T-L-C could provide an ANT-i-aging boost to ant lifespan.

Reference: Beros, S., Lenhart, A., Scharf, I. et al. Extreme lifespan extension in tapeworm-infected ant workers. Royal Society Open Science, 8: 202118 (2021).