Ant Farmers

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while.

A couple of months back, the ants took over our calendula patch.  And when I say “took over”, I mean it.  They moved in with their little ant tractors and set up shop.  It was like the ant gold rush.  Only  they weren’t interested in gold, they were interested in aphids.

Ants are incredible creatures in many ways: they have a complicated hierarchy (albeit feudal); they can carry more than 50 times their own weight; they even lay down a trail of pheremone for other ants to follow toward a food source.  But the aphid thing, well, that tops it all.   Ants FARM aphids.

Check out this video.

According to this article at Science Daily, there are tranquilizing chemicals on the ants feet that calm the aphids – completely halting the possibility of any potential aphid uprising.

They also, as you might have seen in the video, chase off any aggressor.  Simply reaching in to pick a nearby tomato will bring a stream of angry worker ants to attack your unsuspecting fingers.

The ants drive the aphids up the stalk of the chosen plant and keep them there through simple herding strategies.  They then stroke the backs of the aphids and collect the “honeydew” that the aphids release.

I find this entirely fascinating and completely disgusting all at once.

Since the ants were completely taking over our calendulas, we started spraying them with a soapy water solution intended to make them “slide off” the plants…and never come back.  It worked briefly.

But a couple of days later, once they’d chosen a new pasture within the garden, I brought out the big guns and just hosed them right down with the garden nozzle.  Wet ants and aphids flying every which way.

That only deterred them slightly as well – ants, they’re industrious if nothing else – so we eventually resorted to pulling on gloves and sacrificing those plants to the compost gods.

They would have taken over everything.  Really.

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