No one is clear why this happens, but more intelligent birds such as crows have discovered that it is ideal for keeping their plumage healthy.
Many species of the animal kingdom are related to a bond very similar to an economic agreement. An obvious case is that of the remoras, fish that sit under sharks or whales (larger fish in general) and accompany them on the seabed. Both parties benefit and the relationship is nurtured by what they bring to the team. The remoras are protected and they feed on the remains of skin and “leftovers” of their hostmeanwhile, the fish that shelters them has a free lifting treatment.
A similar relationship is the one that many types of birds have with ants, which work as a team giving rise to a most extravagant image. Photographer Tony Austin was capturing animals at a nature reserve in Columbia when ran into the strange phenomenon. A crow lying on the asphalt with its body full of ants.
The photographer’s first thought was that the animal was dead, but when he activated the zoom he realized that it was not. The bird was with its wings perched on the ground, allowing dozens of ants to climb up his body. It is a practice known as “anting”, and carried out by many species of birds around the world. There are studies that have dealt with the subject but none have been able to give a clear explanation of why it happens.
A teamwork that leaves images of the most unusual
This Northwestern Naturalist research article formulates the theories most clearly. As explained, there are species of birds that benefit from the poison of the ant sting to cleanse their body, and use these “ant baths” as a kind of natural purifier. The ant sting releases a chemical capable of killing the internal parasites of the bird.
The other, more common reason is that the ants help clean up the remains of feathers that remain after the change that many birds undergo seasonally. In much the same way as remoras, ravens, and many other birds they are put at the mercy of the ants to have, in this case, a more shiny and healthy plumage. This activity is usually done in the trees, and that is why capturing it on camera is a real stroke of luck.
The vast majority of birds receive these ant baths involuntarily, they simply get carried away. However, more intelligent specimens such as ravens, actively seek out ants to clean plumage. A crow has the intellectual capacity of a 5-year-old child, and therefore knows very well when he needs a bath. At the moment when the change of plumage is complete and it wants to get rid of the remains, it lands on the ground and lets the ants completely cover its body.
Although there are studies on the matter, everything that surrounds the “anting” in birds is still just a hypothesis. It is clear that both animals benefit from the activity, but it is not clear where it comes from or why birds like crows have learned that an ant bath is necessary. Many of the world’s birds are insectivorous, so seeing these two species working together is unusual to say the least.
Related topics: Science