Ant farm takes on a whole new meaning

Researchers find ant species uses farming tools to help them survive.

Remember those small glass cases that we used to have as kids called ant farms?  Well, it turns out at least one species of ant has taken farming a little more seriously, according to a story on NPR.org.

For the last three million years, this ant species that lives on Fiji, has been living in the small cracks on the limbs and trunks of trees, and has been growing a certain kind of plant for its own food.

The ant species, officially Philidris nagasau, is not remarkably different from a common black ant, but its work on growing a small plant, the Squamellaria plant, which really looks more like a fungus, sets it apart from many others.

Researcher Guillaume Chomicki, a botanist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, said in a new study just released, the ants gather the seeds from the Squamellaria plant and deposit them in the cracks in the trees.  As the plants start to grow, the ants use their own waste to fertilize them, as the astronaut did potatoes in the movie The Martian.

When the plants mature and produce fruit, the ants harvest the seeds and begin the process all over again.  Chomicki said he found the ants living in every plant he found, but not in other plants, suggesting the ants and the plants depend on each other for survival.

Other species of ants around the world collect and disperse seeds, but scientists are saying this is the first case where an ant species actually farms a plant they can’t live without.  It is estimated the some 40 percent of the plants in the Northeastern United States have their seeds dispersed by ant species, and many plant rely on ant waste as fertilizer.

Certain species of ants also seem to have domesticated animals for their own use as well, keeping herds of wild aphids and “milking” their honeydew, a sugary secretion, by stroking the aphids with the ants’ antennae.

The findings from the study, on which Chomicki was the lead author, were published in Nature Plants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts