LIFE SCIENCE

Ants “produce milk” to feed the larvae


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Ants pupate. Photo by Daniel Kronauer

Mammalian pups are fed and raised by milk secreted by their mothers, a feature that gives mammals their name. However, American scientists have found that ants also secrete a nutrient solution similar to “milk”. A related paper was recently published in Nature.

Ants are completely metamorphosed insects that develop into adults after egg, larvae, pupae, etc. The researchers found that the “milk production” phenomenon of ants occurs in the least active pupal stage. Newly hatched larvae rely on this nutrient solution to survive and grow, similar to the dependence of mammalian newborns on breast milk.

The paper’s author, Orli Snir, a biologist at Rockefeller University, and colleagues used Rockefeller University biologist as a study to observe the formation and functioning of ant societies. The researchers found that when ants at different stages of development were isolated from the colony, fluid quickly accumulated around the ant pupae. If the liquid is not removed in time, it is easy to cause fungal infection, resulting in the death of ant pupae.

By tracking food coloring, the researchers discovered where ant pupae secrete fluids that adults and larvae drink while cleaning the environment for the pupae. The researchers found that adult ants would put the larvae next to the pupae, as if to breastfeed, and let the larvae drink the liquid secreted by the pupae.

Snir said: “We identified a mechanism to unite ant colonies, combining ants at different stages of development into a coherent whole, the superorganism. ”

The team tested the molecular composition of the liquid and identified 185 specific proteins, as well as more than 100 metabolites such as amino acids, sugars and vitamins. The molecular composition suggests that this fluid may be a special ecdying fluid produced when the larvae shed their outer stratum corneum when they developed into pupae.

Adria LeBoeuf, a biologist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, said: “This is a cycle within the ant colony, and at the same time a metabolic division of labor. ”

After discovering the phenomenon of “milk production” in the Billet egghorn ant, the researchers further observed the other 4 species of ants. Although the ants in the experiment came from different subfamilies, their pupae all secreted fluid and were similar in composition. Author Daniel Kronauer, a biologist at Rockefeller University, speculates that this nutrient solution may play a role in the evolution of ant social structure.

Next, the team will continue to observe the potential effects of pupae secretions on adult and larval physiology and behavior. Kronauer believes that the development of ant larvae into queens or worker ants may be related to the degree to which they are fluid-conditioned. (Source: Meng Lingxiao, China Science News)

Related paper information:https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-04186-2



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