Social insects like ants can get ill, but their type of illness and symptoms vary from other organisms as they do not show symptoms like fever and cough.
Can Ants Get Sick? Ants can get sick due to infections as they usually navigate leaf litter and consume contaminated food containing infectious bacteria. Moreover, they can get sick due to fungal infections, vulnerability to diseases, and extreme environmental changes.
Ants’ colonies have caretakers that will take care of their fellow suffering from illness and provide food and moisture to ensure survival.
In addition, they will lick the wounds of injured ants and take care of their diet, which can help them recover quickly.
Why do ants get sick?
Ants are tiny insects, and they can get sick like higher animals, which affects their working efficiency and make them feel sluggish and less energetic.
Consumption of contaminated food
These insects are commonly seen roaming over rotten fruits, food leftovers in the trash bin, leaf litter, and other contaminated areas. It leads to direct contact of infectious organisms with their bodies.
In addition, these insects eat rotting fruits and vegetables from the trash bin and attack worms in the soil to fulfill their nutritional requirements.
The harmful bacteria and viruses will get an entry to their bodies and attack the internal systems. Their bodies are also prone to attacks of deadly parasites that can cause their death.
Moreover, these germs will get transferred to other fellows in the colony and spread infection.
They are at risk of infection not only due to direct contact with contaminated food, but its consumption can also make them sick.
Exposure to bacteria and viruses results in mild to severe infections that can make them sick or leads to their death ultimately if their immune system cannot fight deadly germs.
A few ants species live in close association with a fungus having a lesser risk of infection as their immune system gets adapted due to exposure to a particular type of fungi.
They are found to be in a mutualistic association with each other. Still, it does not happen with all types of fungi, as leafcutter ants are only mutually related to one type of fungi.
However, all other species can get infected due to fungi attack that alters their behavior and makes it favorable for their growth.
Such infected insects are known as zombies that will climb higher onto the tree branch and remain attached to branches until death.
Hectic routine work
Ants are hardworking insects navigating all day and night in search of food. The workers perform multiple tasks, unlike the queen, that remains inside the nest most of the time.
Moreover, workers control multiple nest activities like cleaning the nest, burying the dead ones, collecting food, and feeding the queen and larvae.
In addition, they have to locate a safe and warm place for shifting the nest when the conditions are not favorable at the existing place.
They do not enjoy sleeping for hours and take naps to keep themselves energetic and healthy.
However, their tough routine can make them sick sometimes, as it is challenging for these tiny creatures to handle physical stress.
Vulnerable to diseases
They are vulnerable to infectious diseases as they live in close association with each other.
Their colonies consist of hundreds and thousands of members of different castes connected to each other for survival, as they cannot live alone.
Moreover, the workers have to come in close contact with queens and larvae to feed them through regurgitation. These can transfer contagious diseases to other nest fellows and make them sick.
Most commonly, forager ants are responsible for spreading disease and making their fellow sick as they leave nests and carry germs back to their nest in addition to food.
External temperature affects the longevity of ants as they are less tolerant to changing climatic conditions.
They cannot respond aggressively to environmental changes and look for escape routes to keep themselves safe. For example, they will shift nests to warm areas in winter to protect themselves from cold air.
In addition, flooding conditions can also be harsh for their small bodies as they cannot survive in excessive water and get sick.
In the same way, hot weather during summer can also make them sick as these insects are adapted to live in shady and slightly warm areas.
What happens when ants get sick?
Ants rarely get sick and show radical changes in their behavior by getting separated from their fellow insects to avoid the spread of disease.
They will remain away from the colony members until their bodies recover from illness.
Moreover, they do not perform any nest tasks during this period as it can lead to the transfer of diseases and germs.
They cannot bring their own food and are dependent on health workers to get food until recovery.
The infected insects do not interact socially with nest mates and brood and spend time outside the nest after getting sick until death.
Their uninfected nest mates cannot recognize the physiological status of infected ones, as sick insects do not bring changes in the chemical profile of cuticles.
In addition, they will display aggressive behavior towards members of other colonies and remain in isolated areas until recovery.
They will try to recover by themselves after mixing the tree resin with the poisonous chemicals produced from their body.
This mixture can kill spores of deadly pathogens by continuously cleaning their bodies. So, the sick members of a colony move out of the nest and live lonely until recovery from disease.
How much time do sick ants take to recover?
Most commonly, ants die of sickness when their immune system is not capable of fighting deadly viruses and diseases that usually attack internal systems.
However, a few household ants feeding on leftovers and leaf litter become immune to the commonly present bacteria in rotting food particles.
The leafcutter ants can live with a particular type of fungus without getting ill, but they struggle to survive after getting infected with viruses and bacteria.
They can take a few days to months to recover from the illness, depending on the severity of the condition, as a few insects are immune to some pathogens.
However, most of them will die after a few weeks as it is easy for predators to attack the physically weak prey that cannot fight for their defense.