Honey producing cattle – Aphids

Aphids are herbivores. They suck plant juices out of the leaves, stems, or roots of plants. The juices they drink often have much more sugar than protein. These little colonies of small bugs live around a plant and mostly try to hide from our sight. But they generate special interest for other interesting creatures – Ants!

Did you know that ants are dairy farmers? It’s surprising to know that these tiny creatures milk Aphids, the plant sap sucking insects, to get the honeydew. They maintain a symbiotic relationship with them.  Ants take good care of aphids in many ways like providing them shelter in the rainy season, protecting them against predators and even caressing them to show care and collect the honeydew.

Ants and aphids share a symbiotic relationship where ants patrol and farm aphids and in turn are fed with honeydew. Ants not only protect aphids from their predators but also take care of their eggs and transfer eggs from one place to other when necessary. Ants have been observed to even attack the predators of aphids like ladybugs other bugs and lacewings. In some cases even the eggs of ladybugs are destroyed to prevent any future fight.

Some species of aphids are observed to lose their ability to excrete waste on their own after being in the care of ants and need the caretaker ants to stroke them! The ants stroke the aphids with their antennae, stimulating them to release the honeydew. This is a serious dependency on the caretaker.

In some cases when aphids deposit their eggs in the soil as the plants have withered, ants are seen collecting their eggs and storing them for winter. Once the newly hatched aphids are ready, the ants then deposited them on the plants again so they can start feeding.

Ants also do not want the aphids to grow too many in number as once that happens; aphids can grow wings and fly away. To prevent this, ants were found using semiochemicals to stop the aphids from growing wings. In many cases even if the wings develop, ants were seen tearing them off thereby restricting the aphids from going away.

So that’s a win-win situation and this behaviour of ants shows that they are very intelligent. They are also quite bossy, if you ask me!

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