A recent study has found that the life expectancy of tapeworm-infected worker ants is significantly higher than that of their uninfected nest-mates.
According to the results of a multi-year scientific study, Temnothorax nylanderi ants show exceptionally high survival rates when infected with a tapeworm.
The lifespan of the infected ants is significantly prolonged. According to our observations, such workers have a survival rate similar to that of queens.Professor Susanne Foitzik – Leader of the Study
The infected ants are easily distinguished from their brown nest-mates due to their lighter, yellow colour, an effect that results from their cuticle being less pigmented.
They are also less active and receive enhanced care from other workers in the nest.
The tests also revealed that infected ants have metabolic rates and lipid levels similar to those of younger ants.
It appears that infected ants remain in a permanent juvenile stage.
It is thought that this is likely due to both the tapeworm larvae altering the expressions of ant genes that affect ageing and to the parasites’ release of proteins containing antioxidants into the ants’ hemolymph1.
Professor Foitzik stated that although the infected insects live a life of luxury, their social care alone cannot account for their prolonged lifespan.
The scientists behind the study will conduct further research in order to identify the factors, particularly on the molecular and epigenetic level, behind this extraordinary display of life.
The only question we are left asking is could this be the key to eternal life for humanity?
1Hemolymph is a fluid equivalent to blood in most invertebrates.
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