Thu 22 Sep 2016
Most people who do not make a living studying arthropods show little interest in bugs like ants. Rather, most people seem to be fascinated with more majestic looking bugs, like butterflies or ladybugs. However, Ted Schultz, an entomologist employed at the National Museum of Natural History, insists that ants are far more fascinating than people suppose. Schultz believes that if people would take a closer look at what a colony of ants can accomplish, as opposed to simply observing individual ants, then people would finally realize what amazing feats of nature many ants are capable of.
For example, sixty million years ago a single ancient ant evolved the ability to grow and feed off of fungus. This early ant was basically a fungi farmer, and now there are more than two hundred and fifty ant species that farm fungi. The first ant appeared on earth one hundred and fifty million years ago, and even the first ant was a social organism. Naturally, over the course of hundreds of millions of years, ants have developed highly intricate social behaviors that you won’t be able to notice unless you observe ant colonies up close.
To illustrate the complexity of a farmer ant colony it should be mentioned that every farmer ant colony begins with a queen. The queen transports spores from her mother’s home to the location of her soon to be colony. Next, the queen promptly mates to create numerous worker ants that will farm the fungi. The worker ants cultivate the fungi by fertilizing it with plant material collected from outside the colonies location. As the fungi grows the ants feed on it like a never-ending source of food.
Also, other farmer ant colonies have learned to subdue aphids with chemicals that the ants produce naturally from their feet. The ants collect and subdue aphids in order to procure honeydew secreted from the aphids, much like how humans milk cattle. As a result of all of this busy work on the part of ants, ants contribute to the shaping of the ecosystem far more so than any herbivore.
Are there any other types of insects that farm fungi?