Ants farming aphids

Yes, you read that title correctly! Tonight I discovered something incredible in the garden: ants farming aphids. It was a chance discovery, while deadheading the oxeye daisies. Running up and down many of the plant stems were ants and on closer inspection, under the flowers, on the top section of each of these stems, were colonies of aphids.

Ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship. The ants care for the aphids, protecting them from predators, such as ladybird larvae, crab spiders and parasitic wasps. They will move the aphids onto fresh stems, move them out of inclement weather and even carry their young underground to survive the winter.

In return the ants milk the aphids for their honeydew, massaging their abdomen to increase production.​ a sweet sticky liquid that provides the ants with nourishment. 

​I’d read about this relationship, but I’d never seen it in action before tonight. I must have looked a little odd to people passing by as I sat on my doorstep staring intently at the daisies, but I was utterly entranced. The ants tended to their flock of aphids so tenderly, gently moving and massaging, checking them over, constantly on the go.​

​It was amazing to see the care they took. Ants may be viewed as an annoyance, attracted to sticky food, scourge of the picnic blanket, by some. Tonight’s encounter reminded me just what advanced creatures they are, with complicated social systems and even a form of agriculture. Pretty amazing for a creature only a few millimetres long!

 

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