On a recent trip to Sri Lanka the main objective was toÂ relax on the beaches but insects managed to creep into the holiday. Ok, having a deep interest in the world of creepy crawlies and being in a tropical country full ofÂ (for me at least) exciting new species, that wasÂ going to happen.Â However, I noticed, similar toÂ Colin, thatÂ pest controlÂ had somehow managed to sneak Â into my passion for insects.
Well, on the lookout for pestsÂ I kept finding ants everywhere. Some of them would be yourÂ common pest ants, such asÂ red ants, others would rather count as casual intruders to your home. What was really excitingÂ was that I could observe and photograph their interesting behaviour.
Talking about photography, trying to click â€œcrazy antsâ€ made me understand why they carry that name; they run around in a manic and seemingly confused manner.
Back to the topic. It is known that ants have evolved very interesting social structures; it is lesser known that they have also developed very interesting relationships with other insects.Â Ants farmÂ aphidsÂ such asÂ mealy bugsÂ andÂ caterpillarsÂ just as we keep cows, sheep and other animals.
Why would they do that? Remember that ants love sugar? Well, aphids emit a sugary liquid, the so called honeydew, which is a waste product from sucking plant juices. As a trade-off for their honeydew:
- The aphids receive protection against predators, such asÂ ladybugsÂ and their ever hungry larvae. The ants will attack and eat insects which threaten their livestock.
- They carry the aphids toÂ ‘pastures new’ where they canÂ suck on tender plants and flourishÂ (which makes them a headache forÂ passionate gardenersÂ as the excretion of honeydew causes mould to grow on the plant).
I also found ants catching an unlucky caterpillar that does not emit honeydew and yup, would be theÂ protein portion of the ants’ dinner.
What do we learn?
Farming makes sense (not only for humans)
If ants did not have a sweet tooth, they would be gardener’s friend (and most probably live a more peaceful life, withoutÂ ant bait and ant poison).