Posts Tagged ‘ants’

Crazier and Hairier

They’re crazy and hairy and they’ve received a lot of press lately in the news and the blogosphere… ANTS!  These ones, Nylanderia pubens, seem to be quite a nuisance to those living in the southern parts of the United States.  They’re, well, crazy, and hairy.

As you can see in the video above, they move very quickly and can deliver a nasty bite.  They exhibit super colony characteristics (like the Argentine ant), meaning they are not aggressive toward other colonies.  If there’s a silver lining this the dark cloud, it’s that they may outcompete fireants.  Oh yeah, and they tend membracids!

Photo Courtesy of Mississippi Entomological Museum

I love ant. Part 3.

Ants and fungi: Leafcutter ants
If you’ve never had the opportunity to see leafcutter ants in action, watch this.

Cool, eh?

Ants cultivate a particular fungus to feed their young.  The fungus is farmed by the ants who provide cut leaves that the fungus decomposes.  The ants are sensitive to any parasitic fungus and have a further symbiosis with a bacteria to protect their farmed fungus.  The fungus is dependent on the ant to grow, and ants in turn are dependent on the fungal farm. Voila! Myrmecophily.

Image courtesy of Alex Wild

I love ant. Part 2.

Ants and arthropods: Lycaenid caterpillars
Ants have mutualist associations with many different arthropods, many of which happen to be liquid feeding bugs (order Heteroptera). Honeydew is the liquid excretion of these insects, rich in sugar and very attractive to ants. A unique group of caterpillars in the family Lycaenidae (order Lepidoptera) secrete honeydew-like substances to attract ants.  In fact, they have special organs dedicated to these liquid secretions.  In exchange for the sugar rich liquid, ants protect caterpillars from parasitic wasps that would otherwise kill them.

But some caterpillars cheat! In an extreme way of using the ants for protection, some Lycaenids chemically mimic ant species, essentially send out a “lost young” signal. The ants take the parasitic caterpillars back to their nest site where the caterpillars chomp away on the brood.  Who said there’s no free lunch?

Image courtesy of Alex Wild

I love ant. Part 1.

Thanks to numerous lectures by a visiting professor, I’ve learned quite a bit about myrmecophily: the beneficial associations between ants and other organisms such as plants, arthropods, or fungi.  These I gladly share with you over the next few posts.

Ants and Plants: The Bullhorn Acacia
The bullhorn acacia, Acacia cornigera, is commonly found in association with Pseudomyrmex ant species.  In exchange for defense, the Acacia provides shelter for ants (domatia), carbohydrate rich nectar (extrafloral nectar), and lipid-protein packets (food/Beltian bodies).  The ants protect the tree against herbivory by other arthropods or even mammals.  There is evidence that the Acacia tightly monitor their relationship with mutualistic ants.  One way is by pre-digesting sugar for ants that lack such digestive enzymes.  Evolutionarily cool.

Image courtesy of Alex Wild