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article imageAnts Corral and Tranquilize Aphids Victims

By Chris V. Thangham     Oct 12, 2007 in Environment
Ants act like cowboys in the wild, they corral aphids into their herds and get honey dew from them. The ants leave trails of chemical footprints to stun aphids from going elsewhere and clip their wings so they don’t fly away.
Tom Oliver from Imperial College of London is the team leader for this study encountered this behavior and saw ants controlling the aphids population at will. Scientists have know this pattern earlier that ants hang out near certain types of aphids colonies, but didn’t know why. The aphids produce sugar-rich, sticky honey dew when they munch on plants. Since the sugary substance is a staple of the ant diet, the ants use various methods to get this from aphids.
Earlier studies have shown that ants will bite off the wings of aphids to keep them from straying away and certain chemicals secreted by the glands of ants can sabotage the growth of the clipped wings. The new study showed ants leaving some chemical traces when they walk to their herds, this chemical tranquilizes the aphids and keeps them close by and the ants harvest the honeydew from them.
Researchers thus say aphids are like“honeydew on tap” for ants.
Ants and Aphids in an apple tree
The scientists used digital camera to discover the latest finding. They made the ants walk in a paper and after that they made the aphids walk over it. They found the aphids walked slower than normal. They found similar phenomenon in leaves when ants walk over them, the aphids walk slower in them as a result their travel patterns is curtailed.
The ants thus confine these aphids closer to their home. In some cases they are found eating some of the aphids themselves and keep the population in check. Even though ants are dominant in this relationship, the aphids also get some benefits out of this. Aphids are protected from ladybirds and other predators which are warded away by ants. Oliver thinks aphids also may deliberately walk into the chemical traces to keep them closer to the ants and stay away from their predators.
Oliver said in the end ants gain the most benefit from this symbiotic relationship.
The aphids are manipulated to their disadvantage: for aphids the ants are a dangerous liaison.”
The study report can be found in the October 10 issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
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