Sick Days

Cold got you down? STAY HOME!

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

More and more, people are told to stay home if they are feeling sick. Don’t infect the whole office! But does it really make a difference? Ask an ant!

The highly social nature of ant colonies means disease can spread very easily. Nathalie Stroeymeyt and colleagues at the University of Lausanne wondered how ants might reduce the danger of an epidemic.

Ant colonies have two main working groups – outdoor foragers and indoor nurses.

Stroeymeyt tagged eleven colonies and exposed some of their outdoor ants to an infectious spore. An automatic tracker followed the tagged ants for twenty-four hours. Eleven disease-free colonies were tracked at the same time.

Result? Stroeymeyt observed all outdoor ants in the infected colonies, regardless of health, limiting their interactions with INDOOR ants. Segregation between groups helped limit the spread of infection to ONLY the outdoor ants. This behavioral change protected high-value ants like the young and the Queen – ensuring colony survival.

*Achoo!* Oh! Is this a cold? I think I better *cough cough* go home! To protect the queen!