It may be stretching it to consider ants as wild animals, but the definition of animals is flexible and we can be flexible too.
Ants, afer all, are a truly amazing form of wildlife, even if they can be annoying. Recently we have dealt with them primarily as food for aardvarks and anteaters. Now there is word of a boon to humanity.
Ants, it seems, can detect cancer in humans. Not all cancers, but some according to French researchers.
Ants do not have noses as mammals do,. Instead their antennae are loaded with odor receptors. These allow them to to “smell” the environment around them.
In a recently published paper the researchers said the ants are able to detect the odor of certain cancers in urine.
Medical News Today interpreted the research:
“Cancer cells can emit specific chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), that can be used to identify cancer. Animals, including ants, with their strong sense of smell, can therefore be trained to recognize these VOCs. (Bold in original).
Using animals to detect cancer is a promising way to increase early detection rates. Dogs, for example, can be trained to identify cancer by smelling cell samples or body odor and detecting VOCs that are associated with cancer and its altered cell metabolism.” Links in original.
Ants offer several advantages. They can learn quickly, and retain memory of the smells. They are abundant and cheap to use. Lead author Baptiste Piqueret has earned his Ph.D is studying ants. He is currently a researcher with the Ulrich Institute.
There are about 12,000 species of ants in the world. The study focused on Formica fusca.
Navajo Nature, a website about animal life in Navajo country says the poor guys could use a little human help:
“Species from the Formica fusca group are some of the most heavily parasitized ants in North America. Other Formica and Polyergus species exploit fusca group species by enslaving their workers or through new queens of these other species parasitizing existing fusca species colonies.
“The former occurs as the result of brood raids where the exploitive species infiltrates a nest and carries off both larvae and pupae. The latter occurs through a newly-mated foreign queen entering a fusca species nest, killing the queen and tricking the workers of the dequeened nest into raising her brood.
“Through time the fusca workforce is replaced by workers of the new species.The large number of references to the North American form of Formica fusca in the literature are mostly suspect in their identification (see Francoeur 1973). It therefore follows that we are not as well informed about the biology of this species as one might believe from a search of Formis.” Link in original.
Insects are very important creatures. We have noted that they are becoming more important for food for animals There are efforts to create meals or flours from insects and increase their consumption by people. However, insects as invasive species are also a serious problem.