A colony of ants has apparently survived for years after falling into a post-Soviet nuclear bunker in Poland. They lived by cannibalising the fallen members of their own kind, according to the researchers. The ants were discovered during a yearly effort to count hibernating bats in the same bunker in 2013. However, researchers found out that the colony comprised entirely of worker ants with no source of food. According to the research published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research scientists at the Museum and Institue of Zoology at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, the ant community sustained this long by cannibalism.
Researchers found out that the ants in the bunker were an accidental offshoot of a larger colony living at the ground level near small ventilation pipes leading into the subterranean bunker. The insects ended up in the same place as many ants were accidentally falling down the ventilation pipe and couldn't climb back. However, years later, the ants were found living in the bunker which prompted the scientists to investigate. Professor Wojciech Czechowski and Dr István Maák said that the wood ants were consuming dead bodies of their fallen members.
What is Cannibalism?
Cannibalism is an act of consuming individual of the same species as food for survival. It is quite common in the animal kingdom and has been recorded in more than 1,500 species. It has been recorded widely in both ancient and recent times. While cannibalism may benefit the individual, it decreases the expected survival rate of the whole population and increases the risk of consuming a known one. It is also widely prevalent in aquatic ecosystems. Human cannibalism has been prominent during the olden times, wherein humans eat the flesh or internal organs of other human beings.
Facts About Cannibalism
- The word 'cannibalism' comes from the name that the Spanish gave to the Caribs called Caníbales. While the Caribbean tribe is believed to have ritualistically followed the practice of eating their enemies, modern-day scholars think otherwise. They said it could have been propaganda by the Spanish to stir fear.
- While cannibalism is believed to have been present in undeveloped countries, it was practised in colonial America.
- A known example of cannibalism is of Donner Party, the travellers who practised cannibalism when they were stuck in the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains while travelling west in 1846.
- Cannibalism was used as medical therapy in Europe. From the 1600s to 1800s, executioners sold off body parts of people for medicinal purposes.
- In today's age, eating placenta has become a health fad. According to Kathy Stuart's Defiled Trades and Social Outcasts, human fat was used for broken bones, sprains, and arthritis. Also, apothecaries used fat, flesh, and bone as medicine. A human skull was churned into a fine powder and mixed with liquid to treat epilepsy.
History of Cannibalism:
In the case of the ants, scientists experimented by creating a bridge for the ants to allow them to return to the original colony. At first, they allowed a hundred individuals to regain access to the nest, where they saw they were accepted as belonging to the larger, original colony.
After this success, they made the bridge permanent, and more recent visits to the bunker have revealed very small numbers of ants still living down there, with the vast majority believed to have returned to the original nest. In 2016, the scientists experimented by making a vertical boardwalk for the ants to return to the original colony. It was found that around a hundred returned to the nest, where they saw they were accepted as part of the original colony. Recent visits to the bunker found very few numbers of ants living there as the majority had returned to their original nest.