Ants can be aggressive toward each other, fighting to the death over their tree territories. After a fight, victorious colonies have to defend their newly gained territory with a workforce heavily depleted by fighting. A new study shows victorious colonies might offset this challenge by recruiting members of the losing colonies to help, Futurity informs.

To understand the cost to winners, Kathleen Rudolph of the University of Florida and colleagues conducted experiments at Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, instigating ant wars by tying unrelated colonies’ trees together and counting casualties in tarps placed below.

Researchers were further surprised to find that, in some cases, fatal fights with thousands of casualties don’t produce a distinct winner. Instead, colonies cease fighting and fuse together.

“Colonies are battling so aggressively that many individuals die, but then they are able to just stop fighting and form a lasting truce,” Rudolph says. How they know to stop fighting remains a mystery.

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