How do ants clean themselves?

Last updated at 12:28
An antGetty
Ants use tiny combs to get clean

Scientists have discovered that ants clean themselves a unique way.

By using powerful microscopes, scientists from Cambridge University now know how ants keep themselves clean.

They use parts of their body which look a lot like small combs and brushes.

It's all about antennae

Ants and most other insects all have antennae.

They look like hairy feelers coming out of their head and face.

They rely on their antennae for lots of different tasks: smelling food, finding mates and also, very importantly, communicating with each other.

If the sensitive hairs which cover their antennae get dirty, then the insects find it really hard to find food and reproduce.

Up until now scientists have been uncertain about how exactly ants keep their antennae clean.

Close up of an ant showing the antennae coming out their head, they rely on their antennae being clean in order to carry out everyday ant tasks.Getty
Close up of an ant showing the antennae coming out their head

Microscopic detail

Dr Alexander Hackmann and from the University of Cambridge made the discovery with his colleagues.

They were using microscopes to look at, camponotus rufifemur, ants.

The microscope helps the scientist see really small details on the insect's body which are not visible to the naked eye.

Dr Hackmann says: "Ants have a special cleaning structure on their front legs that is used to groom their antennae. A notch and spur covered in different types of hairs form a cleaning device, similar in shape to a tiny lobster claw.

"During a cleaning movement, the antenna is pulled through the device which clears away dirt particles using 'bristles', a 'comb' and a 'brush'."

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Close up details of an ant under a microscope

Future research

The scientists think that this discovery could actually help the technology industry in a big way.

Contamination can be a big problem for technological devices, especially as the parts which make up the devices and technology we use every day, get smaller and smaller.

This discovery could help scientists and engineers develop new ways to clean those really small parts.