Ant-sized Cows

If you’ve read my post from October 7, 2016 titled “Insects & Agriculture (Part II)”, you may recall some info on the relation that ants and aphids have with each other. Well, just over the weekend, I spotted ants sitting in the leaves of an apple tree. They weren’t moving around too much: just pacing back and forth along the leaf. But as I looked more closely, I noticed tiny green bumps on the leaves. These bumps weren’t the regular bumps you see on tree leaves that indicate that insects have been eating away at them but were, in fact, aphids. You can see a couple of the (albeit blurry) photos I took right here.

Unlike the way ants treat almost every other creature in their vicinity, ants treat aphids with the utmost care. By letting the aphids suck the moisture from the plant, the ants are able to obtain the honeydew that is produced by the aphids. While the ants provide the aphids with protection and “greener pastures”, the aphids pay the ants with the sweetest drops of honeydew.

Ants & Slavery

Slavery is one of those things that most, if not all, people look down on. Despite having such a negative light, it does increase productivity. People would capture slaves from neighboring/opposing factions and use them to perform the hardest labors, like farming and building. Societies where slavery was common, such as Ancient Egypt and many European countries became so reliant on slavery that the loss of slaves was actually detrimental to their society. Ants are no strangers to slavery either.

In some species, raiding is done quite commonly, where ants kill off rival colonies and take the larva for their own colony. However, there are a few species that take this step even further, but attacking ants of different species and bringing back the brood, dispute being different. The brood hatch and grow up believing that the colony they grew up in is their own, even helping its captors with future raids. It is a slave in a parasitic colony of ants. There are even parasitic ants that enslave adult ants of its hosts.

However, things aren’t all that bad. In some cases, slave-ants rebel and kill a lot of the parasitic ant larvae. This not only lowers that number of slave-makers but also saves the colonies from which they were taken.

Insects & Agriculture (Part II)

Domesticated animals are not new to anyone. We consume eggs produced from various birds and make products from the milk of cows, goats, sheep, and even camels. But just like how we weren’t the first to start growing crops, we weren’t the first ones to domesticate other organisms.

Ants require different categories of food, much like humans. They mainly require sugars as food, giving their larva protein from other insects or animals. However, there are limited numbers of sugar-sources. These include nectar from flowers, fruits, and seeds and they aren’t easy to secure.

Bees, flies, and even other ants make obtaining these basic resources difficult. To satisfy their needs, some ant species care for aphids–small insects that consume the leaves of plants. When aphids consume leaves, they ingest excess amounts of water. This water is pushed out of the aphids body and is known as honeydew. Due to having a high concentration of sugar, the honeydew is then distributed throughout the colony as energy.

Insects & Agriculture (Part I)

Agriculture has been an integral part of almost every thriving civilization. The Egyptians were the first to begin practicing agriculture, with the residents of India and China following shortly after. With the creation of agriculture came the assurance that food was no longer a major concern. However, humans were not the first to start this practice.

A category of ants commonly known as leaf-cutter ants have their own special farms composed of Lepiotaceae fungus. Most people believe that these ants carry away leaves in order to consume them. That is most certainly not the case, as these leaves are for the fungus which, in turn, are eaten by the ants. In order for these ants to found new colonies, however, they must have these fungi to expand.

When a new queen ant is born, it takes a piece of the fungal garden to wherever it decides to start the nest. This little piece is used to not only feed the queen, but also the first batch of worker ants.

An Ant Army

There is no ant species that is as voracious as the infamous army ant. They are typically identified by their curved mandibles, which are able to easily cut through flesh. With colony sizes exceeding 200,000 ants, a foraging line can span about 20 meters wide and over 100 meters in length, covering a huge area in which all moving organisms will be viciously torn apart and brought back to the nest. The army ant nest, however, isn’t a series of tunnels in the ground that most people are used to.

An army ant nest is actually made up of ants. The ants lightly, yet firmly, bite the appendages of their fellow comrades in order to create a cone-like structure, with the queen and brood safely tucked away inside. Whenever the surrounding area has been exhausted of animals to consume, the entire nest begins to stir, with the queen following shortly after the brood has left. When a desirable nesting ground has been selected, the army ants immediately begin to reform the nest. To keep up with the growing hunger of the population, the queen must produce up to 3-4 million eggs a month, which is much higher than other ant species. This technique is also used to bridge gaps on the jungle floor, allowing friendly ants to continue the foraging path.