Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Herding Aphids: How 'Farmer' Ants Keep Control Of Their Food

Date:
October 11, 2007
Source:
Imperial College London
Summary:
Chemicals on ants' feet tranquilise and subdue colonies of aphids, keeping them close by as a ready source of food, says new research. The study throws new light on the complex relationship between ants and the colonies of aphids whose sugary secretions the ants eat.

Chemicals on ants' feet tranquilise and subdue colonies of aphids, keeping them close-by as a ready source of food, says new research.
Credit: Image courtesy of Imperial College London

Chemicals on ants' feet tranquilise and subdue colonies of aphids, keeping them close-by as a ready source of food, says new research. The study throws new light on the complex relationship between ants and the colonies of aphids whose sugary secretions the ants eat.

Related Articles


Scientists had previously established that certain types of aphids live in colonies where they are used as a food source by a neighbouring colony of ants. The ants have been known to bite the wings off the aphids in order to stop them from getting away and depriving the ants of one of their staple foods: the sugar-rich sticky honeydew which is excreted by aphids when they eat plants. Chemicals produced in the glands of ants can also sabotage the growth of aphid wings. The new study shows, for the first time, that ants' chemical footprints -- which are already known to be used by ants to mark out their territory - also play a key role in manipulating the aphid colony, and keeping it nearby.

The research, which was carried out by a team from Imperial College London, Royal Holloway University of London, and the University of Reading and published October 10, used a digital camera and specially modified software to measure the walking speed of aphids when they were placed on filter paper that had previously been walked over by ants. The data showed that the aphids' movement was much slower when they were on paper that had been walked on by ants, than on plain paper.

Furthermore, when placed on a dead leaf, where the aphid's instinct is to walk off in search of healthy leaves for food, the scientists found that the presence of ants significantly slowed the aphids' dispersal from the leaf. Lead author of the article published October 10, Tom Oliver from Imperial's Department of Life Sciences, explains how ants could use this manipulation in a real-life scenario:

"We believe that ants could use the tranquillising chemicals in their footprints to maintain a populous 'farm' of aphids close their colony, to provide honeydew on tap. Ants have even been known to occasionally eat some of the aphids themselves, so subduing them in this way is obviously a great way to keep renewable honeydew and prey easily available."

However, Tom points out that the relationship between the ants and the aphids might not be that straightforward: "There are some definite advantages for aphids being 'farmed' like this by ants for their honeydew. Ants have been documented attacking and fighting off ladybirds and other predators that have tried to eat their aphids. It's possible that the aphids are using this chemical footprint as a way of staying within the protection of the ants."

Professor Vincent Jansen of Royal Holloway's School of Biological Sciences, concludes: "Although both parties benefit from the interaction, this research shows is that all is not well in the world of aphids and ants. The aphids are manipulated to their disadvantage: for aphids the ants are a dangerous liaison."



Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Imperial College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Imperial College London. "Herding Aphids: How 'Farmer' Ants Keep Control Of Their Food." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071009212548.htm>.
Imperial College London. (2007, October 11). Herding Aphids: How 'Farmer' Ants Keep Control Of Their Food. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071009212548.htm
Imperial College London. "Herding Aphids: How 'Farmer' Ants Keep Control Of Their Food." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071009212548.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Galapagos Tortoises Bounce Back, But Ecosystem Lags

Galapagos Tortoises Bounce Back, But Ecosystem Lags

Newsy (Oct. 29, 2014) The Galapagos tortoise has made a stupendous recovery from the brink of extinction to a population of more than 1,000. But it still faces threats. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Drinking Milk Lead To Early Death?

Can Drinking Milk Lead To Early Death?

Newsy (Oct. 29, 2014) Researchers in Sweden released a study showing heavy milk drinkers face an increased mortality risk from a variety of causes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: The US Will Not 'run and Hide' From Ebola

Obama: The US Will Not 'run and Hide' From Ebola

AP (Oct. 29, 2014) Surrounded by health care workers in the White House East Room, President Barack Obama said the U.S. will likely see additional Ebola cases in the weeks ahead. But he said the nation can't seal itself off in the fight against the disease. (Oct. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Oatmeal Healthy Recipes and Benefits

Oatmeal Healthy Recipes and Benefits

Buzz60 (Oct. 29, 2014) Oatmeal is a fantastic way to start your day. Whichever way you prepare them, oats provide your body with many health benefits. In celebration of National Oatmeal Day, Krystin Goodwin (@krystingoodwin) has a few recipe ideas, and tips on how to kickstart your day with this wholesome snack! Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins