'Cannibal' ants discovered in nuclear bunker

James Marshall
November 6, 2019

Back then, it's been revealed that about a million worker ants had become trapped there in that bunker after falling down a ventilation pipe that was located there.

Researchers from the Polish Society for Nature Protection "Salamandra", found around one million ants in the bunker Templewo and around two million corpses.

"Nuclear cannibal ants" sounds like a horror B-movie-one we'd totally see-but these real-life ants have beaten the odds after being stranded in a retired nuclear weapons bunker in Poland.

Wojciech Czechowski, with the decisive contribution of Dr. István Maák, both from the Museum and Institute of Zoology, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, deduced that the "colony" (in quotation marks because only workers were found), while lacking other food, had to survive on the corpses of imprisoned nestmates.

The team also experimentally installed a boardwalk to help the ants get back through the ventilation pipe that led out of the bunker to their original nest. Now, in a new paper in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, the researchers reveal they've built a land bridge of sorts for the ants to use to climb out of the bunker if they want.

The unique group of insects appears to have exclusively survived on the corpses of its fallen members while housed in a main nest build in a vertical ventilation pipe in the bunker in Poland.

Although the colony was first discovered in 2013, a newly-published paper established that the wood ants did indeed consume the dead bodies of their kin that began to pile up on the bunker floor.

But researchers were stunned to find a thriving ant colony inside the base, despite being trapped in a confined space with no light, heat and obvious source of food. Wood ants are known for waging "ant wars" - fierce battles with other ant species that are typically fought in the early spring, when food is scarce, according to the study. "The corpses served as an inexhaustible source of food which substantially allowed survival of the ants trapped down in otherwise extremely unfavourable conditions", the researchers concluded, as cited by Newsweek.

"Our previous [2016] study also left open, how the bunker colony could survive and grow without access to foraging grounds".

In the spring of 2016, the scientists chose to free the captive ants. "As expected, no aggressive behavior was observed", the authors added. In September, a 3-metre-long vertical boardwalk with one end burrowed in the mound made by the bunker "colony" and the other one tucked inside the ventilation pipe was constructed.

Soon, individual ants started to inspect the escape route, and by February 2017 the nuclear weapon bunker was nearly deserted.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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