Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ant Ranchers.

This is a short clip of ants farming aphids on a willow branch at Sagehen.

The ants protect & herd the aphids so they can "milk" them for their nutritious honeydew.

As bizarre as this idea of complex agricultural behavior seems in such a tiny-brained animal, several other species of ants are also farmers. For instance, Leaf-cutter Ants march those sail-like bits of leaves back to the nest where they chew them up for use as mushroom-growing medium. They don't eat the leaves, just the fungus.

Perhaps the scariest insect farmers are the Vampire Ants that occur a little north of Sagehen. Like all adult ants, the Vampires have a throat restriction that won't allow them to eat solid food. They hunt centipedes, but there is not enough juice to keep the adults nourished. So they feed the chunks of centipede to their larva--who lack the throat constriction--then puncture the babies' abdomens & drink their blood! The procedure is not fatal & all adult ants apparently bear scars from this bizarre adaptation.

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