Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

October 2, 2014
Some ants protect aphids for nourishment

Similar to how a farmer cares for his animals, some ants, depending on the species, will gather to protect aphids so they may collect their excreted waste, known as “honeydew.” This substance is high in sugar and is favored by these ants for its sweetness. Because of this, certain ant species will go to great lengths of caregiving so they may collect as much honeydew as they want.

Because aphids suckle the sap and liquids of their host plant, these ants will guard both from predators. When necessary, ants will attack viciously and have even been known to scout a plant, searching to devour ladybug eggs.

Some precautions are taken even further to keep aphids from eventually wandering off, leaving the ants behind. For example, when aphids drain their plant from all its nutrients, ants will at times carry them to a different host plant so they may stay and continue to feed. Other species of ants however, have resorted to simply tearing off the aphid’s wings or disabling their capability to walk.

In fact, some ants will collect and care for aphid eggs during the winter and will store them inside their anthill. When winter ends, they will place the aphid’s eggs on a plant and continue the process.

A little bit more about both insects, for ants and aphids are indeed fascinating creatures. In the United States and worldwide, ants are one of the largest groups of insects found, but because there are so many different kinds of ants, many of the non-stinging ant species are often referred to as “sugar” ants or “banded-sugar” ants. Some of these species include acrobat ants, black ants, pharaoh ants, odorous house ants and still many others. All of these ants’ appearances are similar, but can vary in size, shape and color. Their basic features are a black head with a brown or brownish-orange body, with mandibles that are in most cases, incapable of inflicting painful bites to humans.

Ants inhabit urban areas, forests and grassy or abandoned pastures. They are widely known for being a nuisance for both scavenging and encroaching on domestic places for food. When it comes to crumbs, spills and remaining scraps of food, ants are usually on top of it. Ants will invade homes, garages, sidewalks, paved areas, parks, camps, picnics and outdoor dining areas. Even though ants are pests and are helping another pest be more productive, many ants help reduce the spread of plant-damaging fungi. The fungi, known as “sooty mold,” are caused from the aphid’s secreted honeydew.

Aphids, also known as “plant lice,” are herbivorous insects and feed from the nutrients provided from the saps of plants. Because of this and the diseases it transmits from its toxic saliva, aphids are very destructive and its effects can induce mottling, wilting, stunted-growth, yellowing or browning of the leaves or even death. Their host plants can vary from flowers, vegetation and trees.

 

Taylor Lindsay is a writer and photographer of wildlife creatures big and small. She can be reached for questions or comments at CritterChatter@Live.com.

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