Ant Farming

    As humans, we tend to pat ourselves on the back for “coming up” with great ideas that have led to our current stance at the top of just about every food chain around. One invention that litters just about every grade-school history book is primitive man’s movement from being a hunter gatherer to domesticating animals and grains for our benefit. About 10,000 years ago peoples of the Far to Middle East first began to collect and proliferate grasses that they found especially tasty. With this, it became possible to survive in a single plot of land– allowing social groups to grow and begin worrying about more than how we would catch the next days meal. The end result of this great idea was, well, society… and we pride our forefathers on that.

    Had we paid closer attention to some of our more pesky counterparts, we may have come up with these ideas a lot sooner. Ants are often commended for their unique strength-to-wait ratios, however some ant species are much more deserving of praise for their wit. Some species of ant worked out long ago (about 50-65 million years ago, to be more exact) that they could farm nearby mushrooms for their advantage. This isn’t some low-brow business where they simply eat the fungus involved: the ants help to nurture, spread spores as well as to defend the cultivar from other insects– in some species the queen even takes a spore from the plant with her when she leaves for a new colony to spread it further. Not only had the ants worked out agriculture, but some have even mastered the use of livestock. Ants actually care for “farms” of aphids on plants near their colony– stroking them with their anthers in order to “milk”  a dewy substance that the aphids produce as a waste product. Some species even go as far as to take in aphid eggs over the winter, caring for them until the spring when they redeposit them on a conveniently adjacent plant leaf.

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