These Unusual American Ants Never Get Old

Marcus Woo in Smithsonian:

AntsAlmost everyone succumbs to the ravages of time. Once quick and strong, both body and mind eventually break down as aging takes its toll. Except, it seems, for at least one species of ant. Pheidole dentata, a native of the southeastern U.S., isn't immortal. But scientists have found that it doesn't seem to show any signs of aging. Old worker ants can take care of infants, forage and attack prey just as well as the youngsters, and their brains appear just as sharp. “We really get a picture that these ants—throughout much of the lifespan that we measured, which is probably longer than the lifespan under natural conditions—really don't decline,” says Ysabel Giraldo, who studied the ants for her doctoral thesis at Boston University. Such age-defying feats are rare in the animal kingdom. Naked mole rats can live for almost 30 years and stay spry for nearly their entire lives. They can still reproduce even when old, and they never get cancer. But the vast majority of animals deteriorate with age just like people do.

Like the naked mole rat, ants are social creatures that usually live in highly organized colonies. It's this social complexity that makes P. dentata useful for studying aging in people, says Giraldo, now at the California Institute of Technology. Humans are also highly social, a trait that has been connected to healthier aging. By contrast, most animal studies of aging use mice, worms or fruit flies, which all lead much more isolated lives. “Maybe the social component could be important,” she says. “This could be a really exciting system to understand the neurobiology of aging.”

More here.