When I blogged about experiences I had with ants earlier this summer (Discrimination Opportunity and Watch, Wait and Wonder), one of my blogging friends, Hariod at contentedness.net told me that ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship. I was fascinated by his description of the process so decided to learn more about it.
Ants play the role of protector in the ant-aphid relationship. They do that in exchange for the honeydew that the aphids express when the ants stroke the aphids’ bodies with their antennas. I found some videos that show those behaviors.
In the first part of this video, you will see the ant stroking the aphid, the honeydew being expressed, and the ant drinking it.
The next video, shows how ants protect aphids from lady bugs (I was surprised to learn that in other parts of the world lady bugs are called lady beetles, lady birds, or lady cows! Ladybugs is a North American term.)
As I continued exploring the YouTube videos, I found an incredible one which shows ants protecting aphids from an aphid lion, which is actually the larva form of a Green Lacewing. The video also reveals that there are some creatures which ants allow to stay near the aphids.
The ants are very much in charge of the relationship. Some of the articles say that ants “farm” the aphids. When an ant finds a group of aphids, it leaves a trail of pheromones for worker ants to follow. The ants then enslave the aphids. They slow the aphids down by drugging them with a tranquilizing chemical from their feet. They may also bite off the aphids’ wings to prevent them from flying away.
The ants protect and take care of the aphids in ways other than saving them from predators. They may move the aphids to parts of a plant that have the best sap. When it rains the ants may take the aphids to a more sheltered place, bringing the aphids back to the plant after the rain shower is over. Ants may even carry aphid eggs to the storage chamber of their own nest in order to help them survive a cold winter.
Nature is so amazing. Both ants and aphids are such common creatures, but I would never have guessed that they were so interconnected.