A groundbreaking discovery by researchers studying a tiny ant living in Fiji has the scientific world buzzing.
Scientists studying a small, black ant on the island of Fiji have come to a startling conclusion: we aren’t the only species capable of farming, and we weren’t even the first. Philidris nagasau has been farming plants for 3 million years, longer than the human species has been around, a new study published in the journal Nature Plants claims.
Philidris nagasau has formed a symbiotic relationship with Squamellaria, a fungus-like plant that grows in the cracks and crevices of trees, according to a statement from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen. The ants both eat this plant and live inside of it.
Scientists were amazed to see ants from the same colony moving between two different Squamellaria plants, realizing that they were gathering seeds from the plant and putting them in the cracks of the trees. Once the plants started growing, scientists observed the ants pooping there to fertilize them. And when the plants bore fruit, the ants gathered the seeds and started the process all over again. Researchers observed that every Squamellaria plant they checked had ants in them.
The statement notes: “Squamellaria are adapted to this niche, as the hypocotyl of the germinating seedlings elongates into a unique ‘foot’, enabling the seedling to rapidly grow out of the bark crack and into the light. The seedlings then immediately form a tiny tuber with a preformed hole – the so-called domatium – into which ants enter to defecate and thereby fertilize the seedling. As the seedlings grow, the domatium becomes larger, forming a network of galleries connected to the outside, which the ants colonize to form large colonies, continuing to use some chambers for fecal matter, others just for their larvae. As epiphytes, Squamellaria species cannot draw on soil as a source of inorganic nutrients, and the ants promote their growth by supplying them with ‘fertilizer’.”